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:


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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'.


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.


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.



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:


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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."


"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?"


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:


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: 


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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|


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:


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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 ...


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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.


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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!


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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: 


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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: 


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July 3rd, 2014“Heia Safari!”by Brendan D. King

It is now often forgotten that, before 1918, the Kaiser's Germany held colonies in Africa, China, New Guinea, and the Samoa. One of these Colonies, German East Africa, is clearly meant to be the setting of this interesting tribute to the Kaiser's global empire. The song which accompanies it, "Heia Safari," was written before the Great War and remains very popular in German-speaking countries. It is accompanied by both German and English subtitles.

The commander shown is clearly General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, who commanded colony's militia during the Great War. Commanding a crack force of African "Askaris," and white officers, General von Lettow-Vorbeck defended German East Africa until it had been completely occupied by the British and Belgian armies. The General and his men then crossed into Allied territory and fought a guerrilla campaign until he and his men were at last told about the 1918 Armistice. As a result, General von Lettow-Vorbeck has been called one of the greatest guerilla commanders of all time.

Unfortunately, this video chooses not to focus on that brilliantly fought campaign. Instead the footage used depicts the General in combat against a fictional tribal uprising. Although the video is very well done, I could not help feeling deeply disturbed by the sight of rifles, machine guns, and artillery being deployed against people armed only with spears.

I could not help thinking of Hilaire Belloc's oft quoted poem:

"Whatever happens, we have got

The Maxim gun, and they have not."

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July 2nd, 2014Paul Horgan Seeing Things As They Areby Daniel J. Heisey

Fame being fleeting, Paul Horgan (1903-1995) seems now to be known only to a handful of fans, and most of his nearly forty books, once bestsellers and prize-winners, are out of print.  One way to dust off Horgan’s name is to look at one of the few of his books still in print, a novel called Things As They Are, first published in 1964.  It purports to be the recollections of an aging man named Richard.  Like Horgan, Richard (no surname given) grew up in upstate New York in an Irish-German Catholic family.  Because of these similarities, Horgan prefaced his novel with a disclaimer that it was not his autobiography.

Part of the magic of this story is the adult Richard’s skill at evoking the world of his boyhood in early twentieth-century Dorchester, New York, apparently Horgan’s fictional stand-in for Rochester.  One can see the trees and streets, clothing and furniture of that time and place.  Most of all, one sees the people.  One can see clearly the neighbor boy who is mocked by the other boys as “the dog-faced one,” a simple soul whose parents are ashamed of him, despite his devotion to them, especially to his mother, a word he can render only as “muzza.”

Also, one sees Richard’s venerable but formidable German grandfather, “with glossy white hair swept back from a broad pale brow, and white eyebrows above china-blue eyes, and rosy cheeks, a fine sweeping mustache and a full but well-trimmed beard which came to a point,” preparing to return to the Fatherland and solemnly presenting Richard with a gold pocket watch.  The old man is said to resemble Johannes Brahms in his later years, and Richard’s proud and austere grandfather had once been to Berlin to receive an imperial decoration from the Kaiser.

At one point someone asks Richard whether he likes going to Mass.  “Whoever thought of that before?” Richard the narrator asks of the reader.  “I neither liked it nor disliked it.  It was beauty and it was faith and it was like the day or the night, enclosing all.”  All he can find to say to the man, though, is, “I like to see the candles all lighted and the colors of the vestments and hear the music.”

A cradle Catholic attending a Catholic school, Richard wonders what it would be like to be a priest.  He serves Mass at his parish church, which happens to be Dorchester’s cathedral, and one day he gets an idea.  “One morning after Mass,” Richard recalls, “I lingered alone in the sacristy.  It would be half an hour before the rector of the cathedral, our pastor, old Monsignor Tremaine, came to vest for his own Mass at seven.  His vestments were all laid out for him on a wide deep counter above ranks of tray-like drawers.  His black biretta was there too, with its silky pom-pom of red violet.”  Richard tries on the stole and maniple and biretta and is pretending to give the final blessing when in walks Monsignor Tremaine.

“He came forward slowly,” Richard remembers, “looking at me with keen and serious brown eyes in his creamy pink face.  He usually smiled and hummed a continuous tune, but now he came silently and gravely to me.”  After convincing the priest that he was not making fun of the Mass or desecrating the sacred attire, Richard is sent on his way, Monsignor vesting for Mass.

Later, to test his vocation, Richard secretly spends the night alone in the cathedral and believes he has a vision of the Holy Infant of Prague.  Needless to say, Richard’s priests and parents find out and are not amused, but in the end he has an unexpected visit at home from Monsignor Tremaine.  His kind words go over Richard’s head.  “I did not understand at the time what he was trying to tell me,” Richard says, “I felt only his warm humanity, and the forgiveness it was made of.”

Then Monsignor turns to the boy’s father, who has been standing nearby.  “You know, Daniel, the whole thing looks like boyish nonsense, somewhat overwrought and feather-headed, and of course, it may be just that.  But never forget the chance in a thousand that there may be real holiness somewhere in it.  Only God knows which it might be.”  Being Catholic, he seems to be saying, means being open to mystery.

Like his contemporary Graham Greene (1904-1991), for example, Paul Horgan is one of those authors whose smooth and vivid writing style weaves a spell, causing one to shake one’s head and re-read a page to try to see how he does it.  Like catching a snowflake in one’s bare hand, though, the fine, translucent structure soon vanishes.  Appreciation comes only within the full context, letting the single snowflake, so to speak, fall and join the rest of the winter wonderland.  With Things As They Are and Horgan’s other books, one must take time to let it all soak in, and as with the stories of Greene, one comes away with the sense that only a Catholic could have written them.

Nevertheless, Horgan disliked being labeled as a Catholic author, but he was a practicing Catholic and wrote about Catholic themes, both in fiction and in non-fiction.  Sometimes a Catholic writer is a Catholic writing for other Catholics, but at other times a Catholic writer is a Catholic writing for a wider audience but still exploring ethical problems relevant to Catholics and others.  Either way, a Catholic writer shows the reader how a character, either fictional or historical, grew under his or her own experience of the cross of Christ.  Horgan’s subtle, elegant prose conjures those scenes as though they were part of one’s own experience.


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 2nd, 2014Belloc in Parliamentby Joseph Pearce

I continue my recent appraisal and tribute to the life and legacy of Hilaire Belloc in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative: http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/06/belloc-parliament.html

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July 2nd, 2014Join Me and Fr. Longenecker on a Pilgrimage to Englandby Joseph Pearce

In early June next year, I will be leading a pilgrimage to England with StAR columnist, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, We will be visiting castles, abbey ruins and priest holes in the footsteps of the English saints and martyrs and will also be visiting places associated with great writers, such as Shakespeare, Tolkien, Lewis, Belloc and Hopkins. I hope you will be able to join us and that you will spread the word to everyone who might be interested. See the link for more details: 


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July 1st, 2014Magic in Middle-earthby Joseph Pearce

I've received an e-mail from a young lady expressing her parents' concerns about "magic" in The Lord of the Rings. Here's the text of the e-mail; my response follows:

I am taking your Lord of the Rings class at Homeschool Connections and my parents asked a question to me that I wasn't sure how to answer. They asked what is the difference between Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien because they both use magic and they both have wizards that use magic that are both represented as good. When in reality magic is considered evil. I'm sorry if my question isn't too clear.

My response:

In order to answer your question fully, I would need to expend much more time than I have available. I would suggest that you and your parents purchase my three books on Tolkien's work. In brief, "magic" in Tolkien's work is really miracle, i.e. supernatural power. Such power is miraculous in the usual sense of the word when enacted by one of the virtuous characters but is demonic when enacted by the evil characters. Other so-called "magic", such as that to be found in the ability of hobbits to "disappear", i.e. make themselves scarce, is not really magic at all but the natural power inherent in the creatures themselves, such as a deer's ability to "disappear" before we see it because of its superior sense of smell and hearing.

As I state in my course, Tolkien was a lifelong practising Catholic who insisted that "The Lord of the Rings is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work". Any conscientious study of the work reveals this wonderful Catholic dimension.

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July 1st, 2014To Breathe as Oneby Joseph Pearce

I am occasionally pleasantly surprised when I view something truly edifying in a palantir stone (television). We removed the palantir from our own home years ago so I tend to see one only when I'm travelling. A couple of months ago I was very pleasantly surprised to catch an episode of the new BBC series of Father Brown. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised on two levels; first, I was simply surprised to be fortunate enough to catch an episode; second, I was even more surprised, indeed astonished, to see how good it was and how mercifully free it was of politically and religiously "correct" nonsense. Then, last Friday, I caught an hour-long documentary about the cultural resistance, through the power of folk song, of the Estonian nation to the tyranny of Soviet communism. The whole episode does not seem to be available online but this two minute trailer will warm the cockles of any freedom-loving heart: http://www.tobreatheasone.com/trailer.

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June 30th, 2014St. Thomas More meets Rudyard Kiplingby Brendan D. King

Tragically, "The Ink Desk," carried no reminder that June 22nd was the Feast Day of Saint Thomas More. For this I share the blame. Although my tribute to him is now somewhat tardy, I shall post a Kipling poem which, despite its not having been written with More in mind, contains a perfect description of his character. May his sacrifice never be forgotten!

By Rudyard Kipling.

 IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

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June 29th, 2014Groucho Marx and T. S. Eliotby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

There's an excellent article in the current New Yorker by Lee Siegel about the strange friendship of Groucho Marx and T. S. Eloit - or perhaps the "strained" friendship.

And from Siegel's article we can conclude one thing: Eliot may have been a better poet than Groucho, but Groucho was a lot funnier than Eliot.

Of course, this will come as no surprise to anybody.  But what may surprise most of you (who aren't huge Marx Brothers fans as I am) is that Groucho was a very gifted writer, especially when it came to his correspondence.  Siegel quotes from Groucho's letters and highlights the antagonism buried beneath the superficial cordiality of the Marx-Eliot friendship ...

In response to Eliot’s polite letter, Groucho, who was born Julius Henry Marx, reminded Eliot that his name was Tom, not T.S., and that “the name Tom fits many things. There was once a famous Jewish actor named Thomashevsky. ... All male cats are named Tom—unless they have been fixed. ... ” He ends the letter still refusing to acknowledge Eliot’s wife Valerie, and reminding both of Eliot’s less-than-Bloomsbury origins: “My best to you and Mrs. Tom.”
Groucho and Eliot had been promising to visit each other for three years before Groucho finally came for dinner at the Eliots, in June of 1964. According to Groucho’s letter to Gummo—the only existing account of the dinner—Eliot was gracious and accommodating. Groucho, on the other hand, became fixated on “King Lear,” in which the hero, Edgar, just so happens to disguise himself as a madman named Tom. Despite Tom Eliot’s polite indifference to his fevered ideas about “Lear” (“that, too, failed to bowl over the poet,” Groucho wrote to Gummo), Groucho pushed on. Eliot, he wrote, “quoted a joke—one of mine—that I had long since forgotten. Now it was my turn to smile politely. I was not going to let anyone—not even the British poet from St. Louis—spoil my Literary Evening.” 

"The British poet from St. Louis" is marvelous phrase, especially coming from the pen of a veteran of vaudeville, who had performed in every town in America, and who was certainly not impressed by the hot and humid river towns of the mid-west.  Or even by T. S. Eliot.

Siegel at first seems to be straining a bit in making his case that the relationship was strained, and that there was quite a bit of antagonism in the subtext of the letters Marx and Eliot wrote to each other.  But I suspect he's right - for elsewhere he quotes Groucho ...

“I get away with saying some pretty insulting things,” he told one of his biographers. "People think I’m joking. I’m not.”

Groucho, in a sense, took on the identity of his on-screen persona and functioned as a kind of "licensed fool" in society at large.  

Siegel is coming out with a "short critical biography" of Groucho that promises to be quite interesting.

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June 29th, 2014In Memoriamby Brendan D. King

In memory of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife, Sophie Chotek, the Duchess of Hohenberg, on this the one hundredth anniversary of their assassination near the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo.

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June 29th, 2014Sin is Sexy - Isn’t It?by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Since talking about hell has become embarrassing for most Christians, you won't often find discussions about the eternal consequences of sin.

But look at the temporal consequences of sin: addiction, misery, spiritual blindness, compromising our relationship with the truth in order to rationalize our behavior, etc.  Sin causes so many obvious problems this side of the grave that one wonders why we all habitually engage in it.

I think one of the reasons we love sin is that sin is sexy.  I don't mean that all sin is about sex, or even that sexual sins are the most serious sorts of sins.  What I mean is that the allure of sin is a kind of excitement that takes us out of ourselves.  The thrill is a kind of mini-transcendence, or appears to be.  The thrill is exciting, it's over-the-top, it's "sexy".

By contrast, virtue is typically quiet, hidden, mundane, slow to bear fruit, difficult to cultivate.  A man who changes dirty diapers and is faithful to his wife and who works nine to five and who pays his bills - this looks awfully boring.  A guy who drinks too much or whose irascible nature leads to bar fights, or who has a few sexual encounters that the missus doesn't know about, or who's been running that scam for so long that you begin to wonder when he'll get caught - this is exciting.  This is "sexy".

Much of what addicts have to get used to when combating their addictions is the fact that life - the hidden life of virtue - is not chaotic and filled with artificial thrills.  Everyday life without the drug-of-choice is not a constant kind of panic - and at first glace this seems boring.  Life is not "sexy" without the high that the drug-of-choice provides.

But the high is always artificial.  That's key to understanding any addition or any sin.  The high of a drug or the thrill of a sin is our way of controlling an experience that takes us out of ourselves.  But the irony is that this artificial control is an illusion; sin and addiction always make our lives harder to control in the long run.

I knew a young woman who was devoted to a life of sin, which in her case consisted of aggressively seducing any man she met, especially if they were married or "a challenge".  She thought she had this game well under control, and that the high she got from it was one she could manage and feed on at will.  Then one day she saw in a flash how entirely out of control her life had become.  Both she and her victims were reeling in a cyclone of emotion and pain, and people's lives were coming apart at the seams.  To her credit, she felt great revulsion and a powerful urge to repent.

And if she's still on the wagon, she's had to get used to living a life that at first must have felt much more boring to her.  She's had to get used to finding her thrills in the things that actually provide them, to feeding on the bread of life and the living water, not on junk food and soda pop.


But this is all a way of talking about Mary, on this, the Feast of her Immaculate Heart.

Why do you think the Mass readings for today are all about suffering, lamentation and pain?  The Gospel tells the story of Finding Jesus in the Temple, which is a joyful mystery, but the joy is preceded by a horrible sadness, panic and despair as Joseph and Mary search for their missing son.  Even once He's found, the mystery remains, and the pain is part of that mystery.

That mystery includes the question, why is Mary's Immaculate Heart placed in the midst of this suffering?  Why must she, sinless creature, be forced to endure such pain?  For the same reason Our Lord had to, apparently.

Mary's Immaculate Conception is one of the most hidden of all mysteries that have been revealed to us.  Her Immaculate Heart, filled with virtue and compassion, beats with love in small and unnoticed ways.  Her suffering is, at today's Mass, placed in the context of the great sufferings of Israel, exiled and abandoned because of their sin; placed in the context of the tremendous sufferings of man, sufferings that spring from sin, sufferings that only the cross and a perfect sacrifice addresses.

An Immaculate Heart - a life of purity and virtue and love - is not "sexy".  And in this world, purity and virtue and love must always suffer, for sin will have it so.

But it is precisely that suffering that is the way of the cross.  The sword that "shall pierce your own heart, too" (Luke 2:35) unites her heart with His - as it unites our own hearts with His - and is the only way out of the cycle of sin.

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June 28th, 2014A Hungarian Schoolgirl’s Memoir of of August 1914by Brendan D. King

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the assassinations of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenburg. In their memory and of those many families which endured the horrors that ensued, I am posting the following link:


My deepest thanks go to Erika Papp Faber, both for translating her aunt's memoirs and for bringing them to my attention.

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June 27th, 2014Profiling Othelloby Brendan D. King

Many people who have praised William Shakespeare's deep knowledge of the criminal mind. But the most interesting assessment which I have seen is  by a man who definitely knows what he is talking about.

As one of the pioneers of psychological profiling at the FBI, Special Agent John Douglas is something of a legend in law enforvement. To the general public, Douglas is best known as the model for Agent Jack Crawford in the book and movie "The Silence of the Lambs." One of Douglas' most fascinating investigations, however, took place after his retirement and is described in his book, "The Anatomy of Motive."

In the Fall of 1997, British actor Patrick Stewart arrived in Washington, DC, inorder to play Othello at the Shakespeare Theatre. Desiring an FBI profiler's assessment, Stewart contacted Agent Douglas' close friend and frequent co-author Mark Olshaker and asked him to arrange a meeting.

By his own admission, Agent Douglas had never shared Mark Olshaker's love for classical theater. As a result, he had no knowledge of the plot of "Othello" and was reluctant to meet with Stewart. But Mark Olshaker persuaded him that his unfamiliarity was actually an asset. It meant that he could ask and answer questions about Desdemona's murder as if he were consulting on a real homicide case. Douglas agreed and was filled in on the basics of the play by Olshaker.

When Agent Douglas met Patrick Stewart over lunch at Olshaker's house, the profiler began by asking about Iago's motive. Agent Douglas first instinct was that Iago must have wanted Desdemona for himself.

Stewart responded, "He's brimming with rage that Othello has given to Cassio the promotion he thinks he deserves and so he sets out to destroy Othello by carrying out this plot to make him think his wife is being unfaithful."

Later, as they discussed the stages that Othello would have to go through to convince himself that murdering the woman he loves was his only option, Stewartasked what Agent Douglas calls, "the key behavioral question."

"John," he asked, "how would Othello feel hearing these things about his wife? Would he believe them? Would he try to defend her honor?"

Douglas responded that, based on what he now knew about Othello's character, he would not try to defend her honor for a simple reason. Othello's self-doubt and belief in his own unworthiness would immediately come into play. "Of course his wife would be unfaithful to him, because deep down he worries that he's not good enough for her. Her father was passionately against the marriage and maybe he was right. Othello has compensated for being a foreigner and a racial minority and someone not considered a part of the Ventian elite by being this great warrior who everyone has to admire because they're depending on him to defend them. But Iago, like many predatory personalities, is a pretty good profiler himself and understands how to get to his boss."

When Stewart asked about Othello's mindset as he prepares to murder Desdemona, Douglas responded that he would be mentally preparing himself, growing comfortable with the idea, and ultimately reaching the classic rationalization that, "If I can't have her, nobody will."

When Stewart described the actual crime, Douglas responded that manual strangulation, "sounded reasonable." Desdemona's murder is what profilers call, "a domestic personal cause homicide," and this M.O. would tell an investigator that the victim and perpetrator knew each other well. Douglas stated that, in order to murder Desdemona, Othello would have to dehumanize her. As a result, Douglas suggested that Othello close his eyes and look away, which profilers call, "a soft kill."

Douglas further explained that, having convinced himself of the rightness and justice of his actions, Othello would try to cover up his crime and get away with it. Due to his belief that he "had to" kill Desdemona, Othello might even pass a lie detector test.

Douglas next asked Stewart, "Is he found out?" Stewart and Olshaker then explained how Emilia, Desdemona's maid and Iago's wife, arrives at the scene and screams about her mistress' murder. Then, Iago and a group of Venetian officials arrive. At this moment, Iago's lies are exposed to everyone.

Douglas writes, "I warned them that this would be a very precarious place for Othello to be. Perhaps Othello's strongest bond is with his troops, and now he will have lost face, lost moral authority with Cassio and the others. His whole life has been the military and now, through his subordinate Iago, he's been betrayed by what he believes in most."

Douglas said, "You'd have a real suicide threat here."

Patrick Stewart brightened and said, "That's exactly what happens!" He explained that, once he is disarmed, Othello goes for another dagger which he has kept hidden in the room and stabs himself. According to Douglas, "Someone like Othello must stay in control, even in death."

Several weeks later, John Douglas sat in the audience with his family and watched a Shakespeare play for the first time in his life. "And it was particularly fadcinating," he writes, "to see how brilliantly Patrick Stewart translated criminal investigative analysis intp actionand made theory come alive."About their original discussion of the play at Mark Olshaker's house,

Douglas writes, "I came away from that afternoon with a profound respect for Shakespeare's ability as a profiler. Everything that I'd seen real, contemporary offenders do, the playwright had anticipated by more than four hundred years."

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June 27th, 2014Poetry and Exileby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

In the photo above, you see me (left) at a restaurant with Fr. Dwight Longenecker.  Fr. Dwight was in St. Louis presenting a three day mission at Immaculate Conception Church in Dardenne Prairie.  I offered to take Fr. Dwight out to breakfast one morning.  My plan was to take him to the lobby of his hotel and eat donuts and cereal for free.  But he insisted that we go to someplace swanky, so we ended up at Bob Evans.


I first met Fr. Dwight when he was still Mr. Dwight - a former Anglican Priest who had sacrificed his career when he converted to the Catholic Faith in the mid 1990's.  I met him at Ave Maria College back in 2005, about ten years after his conversion, where he was giving a talk on The Lord of the Rings.  He mentioned then that he was hoping to be ordained a Catholic priest - but only at his first mission talk this week did I hear the whole story.  It turns out that that entire period, from about 1995 to 2006, was a decade in which Dwight Longenecker suffered in quiet obedience to three different bishops who refused to ordain him, while his former Anglican clergy friends in other dioceses were being ordained and getting on with their careers.

In his mission talk Fr. Dwight didn't dwell on what this must have been like.   But I think we can picture it.

Imagine being called to something - having a legitimate vocation - and spending a decade of your most productive years, from age 39 to age 50, being prevented from practicing what you're called to do, what you're made to do, and what you love to do, all the while having a wife and children to support; being forced to support them by taking odd jobs and being under-employed, all because you decided to be faithful to God and obedient to your bishop.


Actors understand this - because actors know how hard work is to come by and how much we long for what we love when we're not able to do it.  These days I give all I've got to Theater of the Word and Upstage Productions and Grunky, for I know what it's like to go years deeply wanting to do what I'm made to do, but being unable to.

Living like this - where there's a painful gap between what you love and long for and the satisfaction of that desire - living in this exile, this is what makes a man a poet.  For poetry is always somehow about that quest, the quest of the lover for his Lady, the attempt to find or to build an earthly city that somehow embodies the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, whose music you hear echoing far away, whose four lost chords you seek to sing and to honor, though you yourself are muddied and bruised, your instrument out of tune, a drunken troubadour on the side of the road.

And though all actors are tempted to do this for a kind of vainglory, if you love it you don't mind the reality, which is usually far from glorious.  In other words, you sing the four lost chords even if you're on the back of a hay wagon getting pelted by sleet and the small audience is running for cover.  The reality (for me, at least) is spending long hours on the road, changing in dressing rooms that are storage closets, performing for audiences who are often drunk and heckling you, dealing with performance spaces that are sometimes bowling alleys or barns with bugs flying in your face (see photo below - one of our many performances at a barn in rural Kansas, where I ended up swallowing a lot of bugs).

But we do what we can, and we do it for love.  Fr. Dwight had a good line about this.  He repeated advice he once heard about what to do if you're a Catholic layman seeking to serve the Church.  "Do what you can.  Don't wait to be asked - and don't wait to be thanked."

For as Paul says, "Woe unto me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16)  When God calls, you answer, for His sake and not for the sake of anything else.  We act (we actors) because we must.  It is what we are made to do, what we are called to do.

This is what makes it a vocation.  It is similar to the great vocation of marriage, where likewise you long for and seek out your Lady; and when you marry her, she'll find that you're a drunken troubadour on the side of the road, and you'll find that she's not as attractive the first thing in the morning as she was under the moonlight when you picked up your guitar and wooed her.  But you are One Flesh, and sweating beneath the floodlights on stage for applause is not unlike changing dirty diapers in the family room for no thanks at all.  In both cases, our love becomes incarnate - fleshed out - only by means of a cross.

That cross can be the hard work and persecution involved in answering the call; or it can be 11 years of exile and frustration, longing to answer the call.

Either way, we find ourselves in a gift of ourselves, and we find our greatest glory is this rough and splintered cross, embraced with love.


Meanwhile, Fr. Dwight gave an impressive three day mission, aimed at both the heads and the hearts of his audiences.  He told his conversion story, spoke on the twelve "isms" that threaten the wholeness of life in the Church, encouraged ways to counter these sins and divisions, gave honor to Our Lady and the saints, and drew us all closer to Christ.

He ended the mission by having the audience stand to receive his blessing.  All of us in the sanctuary - over 100 people - stood and crossed ourselves as he blessed us.  Then immediately, the associate pastor said, "Let's show our gratitude to Fr. Dwight!" and we all gave him a hearty round of applause - while we were still on our feet.

And I couldn't help thinking, "Not a bad way to get a standing ovation!"

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June 25th, 2014Alexander Pushkin on Shakespeareby Brendan D. King

Excerpted from, "The Critical Prose of Alexander Pushkin," Indiana

University Press, 1969. Pages 240-241.


The characters created by Shakespeare are, as in Moliere, basically types

of such and such a passion, such and such a vice, but living beings filled

with many passions, many vices; circumstances develop their varied and

many-sided personalities before the viewer. In Moliere, the miserly--and

thst's all; in Shakespeare, Shylock is miserly, acute, vindictive,

philoprogenitive, and witty. In Moliere, the hypocrite dangles after the

wife of his benefactor -- hypocritically; he takes the estate into his care

-- hypocritically; and asks for a glass of water -- hypocritically. In

Shakespeare, the hypocrite passes sentence with vainglorious severity --

but justly. He justifies his cruelty with the profound judgement of a

statesman. He seduces innocence with powerful, convincing sophisms -- not

with a ridiculous mixture of piety and rakery. Angelo is a hypocrite

because his public acys contradict his hidden passions. And what profundity

there is in this character!


But perhaps nowhere is the many-sided genius of Shakespeare reflected with

such variety as in Falstaff, whose vices, one connected to another, form an

amusing ugly chain, like an ancient Bacchanalia. Analyzing Falstaff's

character, we see that its main feature is voluptuousness; probably from

youth, coarse, cheap woman chasing was his first interest, but he is

already past fifty. He's gotten fat and grown decrepit. Gluttony and

wine have noticeably won out over Venus.  Secondly, he is a coward,

but spending his life with young scape graces and constantly subjected

to their mockery and pranks, he conceals his.cowardice by means of

evasiveness and mocking boldness. By habit and calculation he is

boastful. Falstaff is not at all stupid --on the contrary. He even has

some of the customs of a man who has occasionally seen good society.

He has absolutely no principles. He's as weak as a woman. He needs

strong Spanish wine, rich dinners, and money for his mistresses. In

order to acquire them he is rwady for anything-- except manifest



In my youth, chance brought me together with a man in whom nature, it

seemed, wishing to imitate Shakespeare, reproduced his great creation.

He was a second Falstaff: voluptous, cowardly, boastful, not stupid,

amusing, without any principles, tearful, and fat. One circumstance

lent him an original charm. He was married. Shakespeare didn't manage

to marry off his bachelor. Falstaff died among his girlfriends, not

having managed to be a horned spouse, nor the father of a family --

how many scenes lost to the brush of Shakespeare!


Here is a touch from the domestic life of my respectable friend. One

day in his absence, his four year old son, the very image of his

father and a little Falstaff II, kept repeating to himself, "How bwave

Papa is! How the Soveweign woves Papa!" The boy was overheard and they

called to him, "Volodya, who told you that?" Volodya answered, "Papa!"

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June 25th, 2014Tolkien Fandom’s Response to Peter Jacksonby Brendan D. King

Special thanks to Pavel Parfentiev for bringing this to my attention.

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June 25th, 2014The Lion’s Heartby Dena Hunt

My new novel, The Lion’s Heart, is available on Kindle. The print edition will be out any day now, probably by the time this is posted. It’s perhaps not suitable for all audiences, however. Erin McCole-Cupp explains why in her review:


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June 24th, 2014A Blank Sheet of Paperby Dena Hunt

I have no attachments, no identifying tribal markers. By that I mean I am no one’s daughter, no one’s wife, no one’s sister, and no one’s mother. Ergo, I am no one, a blank sheet of paper on which many people have felt free to write their stuff.


People are so often unaware of their own connectedness, of how much they refer to their attachments for self-identity. They’re usually quite aware that they are not their professional persona (that identity, if not distinguished from themselves, can cause them all sorts of problems.) In other words, they know: I’m not just a doctor, I’m also Alice’s husband and Joey’s dad. But their self-definition usually stops there—though they’re not aware of it—with their connectedness. Outside that connectedness, there is only empty space, dark and unknown, and maybe for some people, a little frightening—threatening, even; for others, an unknown territory they may be tempted to explore.


Enter the blank sheet of paper. The most obvious use of that paper is the extra-marital affair. Blank sheets of paper serve as mistresses or lovers (“The Bridges of Madison County”, etc.), but they serve in other ways, too. For example, I learned long ago that I can’t really be close friends with a married woman. What happens, if a woman has been a devoted wife, is that she often sees her single, unattached, friend as the self she is/would have been/might be without her husband. So she wants to write her made-up, fictional self—her “story”—on her blank sheet of paper friend. It might take a while for the friend to figure out what’s going on, but if she’s wise, she’ll keep her distance, for contrary to what’s externally visible (i.e., “blankness”) the single friend does actually have an identity—perhaps very hard won, in a world where identity is determined by relationships—and the friendship is actually, whether the married woman is conscious of what she’s doing or not—an attempt to write a story on her. The married woman doesn’t know she’s doing this to her friend, but there is a part of her she wants to keep for herself, unclaimed by her marriage, and she may feel guilty about that, so she keeps it hidden from herself. It’s not really any different from infidelity, and she’d be horrified if she were aware of it. This is particularly likely to happen if there is any sort of friction or discontent in the marriage—perhaps unacknowledged resentment of the time her husband spends with his own interests, or feeling “taken for granted,” that sort of thing.


Blank sheets of paper get caught up in other people’s dramas. They get cast in roles in other people’s plays. And it’s not always easy to figure out what’s going on before sometimes very serious damage is done to that paper! I’ll be frank. Sometimes people scare me—with very good cause. I learned a long time ago that they don’t know what they’re doing when they appoint me the role of witch, seductress—or mother, or mentor, or whatever saint/sinner they need to cast in their drama. They don’t recognize my sovereignty because they don’t perceive their own. They literally don’t know what they’re doing.


In the long years of teaching teen-agers and young adults, I caught on fairly quickly, knowing that my students were at that time in their lives when they were searching for who they want to be, who it’s possible for them to be, what childhood fantasies would have to go, and what dreams to pursue—it’s all part of being eighteen or so. Teachers known to be married with families were not “blank” projection screens, like a teacher who’s unmarried, someone who’s not from their town, etc. They could make that teacher anyone they wanted her to be. I’ve been both credited and blamed for decisions, actions, events, I didn’t even know were happening! Most dangerous of all are the “fans.” If you don’t follow their script, their reaction can be horrific, and it’s easy to get the script wrong if you don’t know there is one.


Sometimes the experience is funny, sometimes very bitter, and sometimes downright terrifying. I once taught at a small rural school where the faculty (all married women) chose me to hate. Why? I asked to the tobacco-chewing wise old man who was principal. “Simple,” he answered. “You don’t have a husband.” My response was incomprehension—so what! Why’s that a problem? “Oh, that’s not the problem,” he said. “The problem is that they do!” And one learns quickly to understand that “Who does she think she is!?” is a danger signal in code. The question is not Who do I think I am, but Who does she think I am? Once that’s decoded, one is able to cope.


Meanwhile, I became ever more content to be alone, and what some people might mistakenly call “independent.” (It isn’t independence at all, however, more like non-dependence, but that’s hard to explain.) I learned that the best-kept secrets are the ones that are told, and the best defense is transparency, not disguise. And I write stories on blank sheets of paper, never on people.  

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June 22nd, 2014The World War I Poetsby Kevin Kennelly

More and more I believe WWI was the epochal event of the 20th century with horrible effects lingering with us still.......hyperinflation,  communism, fascism, WWII , modernism and today's "retail" decadence in the form of political and cultural liberalism. That may well be a lot of "historical license" but I do believe the dots connect.

The carnage and misplaced patriotism ( albeit mixed with incredible bravery and devotion) was and is stunning. Maybe a million men died at the Battle of Verdun yet it is thought the battle line moved some 18 inches net.

To possess these insights at a comfortable vantage point of 100 years plus is easy lifting; but the WWI poets ( as they are called) of this era figured all this out in what we call today real time and expressed their insights in beautiful and moving ways. 

Wilfred Owen , in his period classic "Disabled" evokes the thoughts of a (probably) despairing , limbless veteran as he sits in a wheel chair watching able youths frolic. 

   He sat in a wheeled chair , waiting for dark,
    And shivered in his ghastly suit of gray,
    Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
    Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
    Voices of play and pleasure after day,
    Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

     About this time Town used to swing so gay
     When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
      And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
      --In the old times , before he threw away his knees.
      Now he will never feel again how slim 
      Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands.
       All of them touch him like some queer disease........

We in are in great debt to Owen as well Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and others. It is doubtful that today's wars ....or today's culture.....will produce a single poem approximating the works of these men.

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June 22nd, 2014Living in the Church vs. Living in a Cultby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

There's a strange phenomenon that's been at work within the Church for the past sixty years or so.

A number of groups have sprung up within the Catholic Church that have become more or less full-blown cults.  These groups present themselves as Catholic, but they share several of the following characteristics with cults ...

  • An "us vs. them" mentality
  • The attempt to control every aspect of the lives of their members
  • Secrecy - not being open about who they are or what their intentions are
  • Recruitment of new members is done thorough "love bombing" and false friendships
  • Members are isolated - cut off from their families and from society at large
  • An emphasis on sex - either sexual purity or sexual license - which becomes almost obsessive
  • Members are abused either psychologically, physically or sexually
  • The founder is adored, and his sins or flaws are hidden or excused away
  • Totalitarian techniques are used: history is rewritten, dissidents are shamed, expelled and stripped of their dignity and humanity, and brainwashing is practiced
  • A spirit of sadism and masochism can begin to flourish
  • Esotericism - the full truth of the aims of the cult is revealed only to a select few who have become sensitive and keen enough to appreciate the secret, after a long process of initiation; the true aims of the cult are hidden from the public and from new members
  • A narrow and bizarre doctrine is taught and sick and perverse discipline is followed

Many Catholic sub-groups like this make a lot of money and cultivate a large following of powerful people.

The response by bishops and the Vatican to the formation of cults withing the Church?  Typically they sit on their thumbs, or else praise the cult leaders, until, like the founder of the Legionaries, the founders are demonstrated to be wolves in sheep's clothing, or worse.


My question is this.

Is there a tendency within the "devout" demographic of the Church toward seeing the divinely constituted Body of Christ itself as being nothing more than a narrow, sick cult?

Here's a character sketch of what I mean.  It may even describe some readers of this blog!  Let's call this guy Vince.  Vince ... 

  • Operates on a strict "us vs. them" mentality: either Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, Christian vs. Secularist, etc.  All good resides with "us", all bad is found in "them".
  • Has a kind of nascent obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Only by doing things in exactly the right kind of way can Vince find salvation.  Thus a free spirit like Pope Francis who operates entirely off the cuff is horrifying to Vince, not merely because Francis emphasizes things "they" also emphasize, but because he's spontaneous, and spontaneity frustrates the desire for strict control within the cult.
  • Lying and immoral behavior are means that are justified by the ends, and our ends, the ends for "us" within the cult, are always laudable, by definition
  • Our primary aim as cult-Catholics is to seal ourselves off from the rest of creation and hunker down.  Power, security and control - over our own lives and over others - becomes our Unholy Trinity.
  • Since an extended family always includes people who disagree with you - the boorish secular uncle, the spiteful liberal sister-in-law, etc. - family members are sometimes denigrated or even disowned if they don't stick to the program.  Even the bonds of natural affection are severed.  The cult replaces the family.
  • Sex is either Puritanically repressed at all costs, or made into a kind of magic rite that expresses our deepest longings for God.  It's never just sex and it's never just fun - and it's never what the Church teaches it is.
  • Brutality is king - internal dissidents and external opponents who aren't with the program are to be treated with a heartless and violent contempt, even if they're bloggers or Facebook friends.
  • Certain Catholic Media Celebrities are adored and may never be criticized, questioned or looked upon as normal fallible human beings.
  • Vince might find salvation not by means of the sacraments, but through things like Gluten Free Whole Foods, Raw Milk, Multi-Level Marketing, Yoga, Yogurt, End Times Seminars, Guns, specific devotions or media apostolates, etc.


Now an "us vs. them" mentality can help us to remember that we, as Christians, are to be in the world and not of the world, and to keep in mind that much of what passes for culture around us is degenerate and dangerous - and to remember that sometimes it is, in fact, "them vs. us".  Such an attitude can help us to be on guard - but if there's anything antithetical to Christian compassion it's letting your whole life be infused with the spirit of "us vs. them".  The more we think like that, the less we will love "them" and the more we will seek to destroy "them" (whether "them" are the liberals, the atheists, the Protestants, the "neo-Catholics", the gays, the Democrats, the Jews, etc.) for "them's" the ones who keep bursting our pretty little soap bubble.  Them's our enemies, dammit! and we're not foolish enough to love our enemies!  That's certainly not why we're Christian!

Vince, then, attempts to live in a cult that satisfies his need for control, power and security, rather than in the Church, which offers none of the above.  The Church offers much more than control, power and security, but Vince and his fellow cultists won't see that.

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June 22nd, 2014Be Nice to Those in Lineby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Yesterday I experienced a brutal and shocking encounter with evil that still has me reeling.  It's the kind of thing I really can't describe, but one of the effects of it was a distinct desire to go to confession today before Mass.  I felt dirty and needed a shower, so to speak.


So I went to one of the most beautiful churches in St. Louis, St. Francis de Sales, home of the Institute of Christ the King, whose priests offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  Confession is offered throughout the day on Sunday, from 7:30 am to 11:30 am, even while Mass is being celebrated - more or less.

Being a good Catholic, I showed up just in the nick of time for the 10:00 am Mass.  (That's what Good Catholics do.  Really Good Catholics show up late).  There are two confessionals in this massive church, on either side of the nave, and I picked the one on the right.  But the priest darted out of the confessional as the procession passed us, and the line for confession quickly disbanded.  "He'll come back after the homily," a young penitent informed me.

So I picked a pew while the organ played and the invisible choir sang (from the loft) and the church was filled with splendor.  But after a while I noticed that the line for the confessional on the left was still in tact.  Figuring that the priest on the left must still be hearing confessions, I made my way to that line.

But the line never moved.  I was third in line and three or four others were behind me.  Finally I asked the guy in front of me if there was a priest in the confessional.  "I have no idea," he replied.

Then, after the homily, a bunch of the folks from our line - in fact everyone who was behind us - moved over to the confessional on the right and cued up.  A priest was busy over there hearing confessions!  Suddenly there were about 15 or 25 people in that line, while the three of us who had been in front on the left were stranded.

I turned to the two sinners ahead of me.  "The last will be first, and the first last!  You've heard that!" I exclaimed, assuming they were familiar with the words of Our Lord from Mat. 20:16 and elsewhere, and we made our way to the end of the line on the right - going from first on the left to last on the right.

I made it over there before the guys who had been ahead of me did.  So when they got there, I let them move in front of me.  At first they demurred, but I insisted.

And it occurred to me.

If you can't be kind to your fellow sinners in line at the confessional, you're not doing it right.  And we're all in that same boat.  We're all in line, existentially speaking.  We're all steeped in sin, eager for forgiveness.  We're all devoted to death and darkness and hungry for life and light.  And the line sometimes shifts and falters, and sometimes the last will be first and the first last, and that's a great joke, a divine comedy.  Be nice to those in line.  That's got to be the bare minimum for Christian behavior.  Be nice to those in line.  Yes, I hate the "Church of the Nice" too, but the gentle self-sacrifices of everyday courtesy are central to the Christian Spirit.


Mass was followed by the Corpus Christi procession around the church, through the streets of old South St. Louis.





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June 22nd, 2014More On Distibutismby Joseph Pearce

I was pleased to receive an e-mail from a businessman who had enjoyed reading two of my recent articles for the Imaginative Conservative. I'm publishing parts of his e-mail (retaining his privacy through anonymity), not because it praises me (honestly!) but because it makes some important general points about the distributist and subsidiarist nature of small business and the need for subsidiarity in the sphere of education: 
I just read two of your articles in The Imaginative Conservative. One on Belloc and one on Distributism. I enjoyed both immensely.

Regarding your article on distributism, I thought your explanation was dead on. I am a great believer in small business. Contrary to popular understanding, most people in the United States work for small businesses. Most new jobs created are created by small businesses. Indeed, I believe small businesses are the backbone of our economy.

I also believe in the principle of subsidiarity, not just because I am a Catholic but because it simply makes so much sense. Simply put we have the local school board with my neighbor serving vs. the department of education with anonymous bureaucrats developing policies forced down people's throats.

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June 22nd, 2014Discussing the English Martyrs and the Catholic Revival in Spainby Joseph Pearce

Another interview that I gave during my recent visit to Spain has now been published. In this interview, given in Barcelona and published in two parts in Aleteia, I discuss the persecution of Catholics in England during the so-called English "Reformation" and a host of the key figures in the Catholic cultural revival, including Newman, Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton and Greene. I'm supplying the link for Spanish speakers or for those who can bear the pidgin English version in instant translation:
There is also a Portuguese version: http://www.aleteia.org/pt/estilo-de-vida/artigo/conversao-de-joseph-pearce-5788815591473152

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June 20th, 2014Praying with Samuel Johnsonby Daniel J. Heisey

Two hundred thirty years ago the English language lost one of its greatest champions.  Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) is perhaps best known today for compiling in 1755 a two-volume dictionary of the English language, often incorrectly hailed as the first English dictionary but certainly one of the most important and most amusing.  His definition of a lexicographer:  “A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge.”  He was also a prolific essayist, and today he would undoubtedly have a blog, although it would be open only to subscribers, since he believed, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”

Whether we accept his definition of a blockhead, we ought to appreciate that he was a devout Christian, steeped in the majestic cadences of the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.  Probably for today’s militant atheists, Johnson’s spiritual formation qualifies him to be dismissed as a blockhead, but the prejudices of angry atheists need not detain us.

Worth keeping in mind is the capacious charity of a man who admired virtue wherever he found it, so that this ardent Tory could surprise his more liberal friends by observing, “All denominations of Christians have really little difference in point of doctrine, though they may differ widely in external forms.”

The inner life of such a Christian can speak to the faithful even today.  As his comment about Protestants and Catholics indicates, he took a broad view of the Nicene faith uniting most Christians.  Johnson’s posthumously published Prayers and Meditations (1785) is available in print and electronic formats, and several of his prayers and meditations occur also in James Boswell’s biography of Johnson, first published in 1791 and likely to remain in print long after more recent and more scholarly biographies of Johnson have been forgotten.

Regarding prayer, Johnson said, “To reason philosophically on the nature of prayer was very unprofitable.”  Johnson had read widely and well in the Greek and Latin classics, and he had read nearly all the English poetry written up to his time.  Thus his sense for prose had the benefit of his ear for verse.  Johnson’s religious musings shed light on the intuitive relationship between poetry and prayer, even when prayer takes the form of prose.  Here we sample but three, two formal prayers and one private meditation.

Johnson had attended Oxford, but lack of money kept him from completing his degree.  He then worked briefly as a country schoolmaster, but otherwise he held no academic post.  As one would expect of a voracious reader and indefatigable writer who was also a strong believer, Johnson prayed about his ink-stained, deskbound life.

In 1765 Johnson composed a prayer for his intellectual life:  “Almighty God, the giver of wisdom, without whose help resolutions are in vain, without whose blessings study is ineffectual; enable me, if it be thy will, to attain such knowledge as may qualify me to direct the doubtful, and instruct the ignorant; to prevent wrongs, and terminate contentions; and grant that I may use that knowledge which I shall attain, to thy glory and my own salvation, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.”

Both on Good Friday and on Holy Saturday, 1772, Boswell stopped in to see Johnson at his big brick house in London and each time, “seeing his large folio Greek Testament before him, beheld him with a reverential awe, and would not intrude upon his time.”  Boswell recorded that while during Easter Johnson was “thus employed to such good purpose” and while his conversation showed “a vigorous intellect and a lively imagination,” nevertheless there was more below the surface.

Years later, Johnson’s friends found among his papers this meditation from that time:  “My mind is unsettled and my memory confused.  I have of late turned my thoughts with a very useless earnestness upon past incidents.  I have yet got no command over my thoughts; an unpleasing incident is almost certain to hinder my rest.”  Boswell expressed dismay that his late friend could “appear with such manly fortitude to the world, while he was inwardly so distressed!”

A day or so before he died, Johnson composed and recited this prayer before receiving Holy Communion:  “Almighty and most merciful Father, I am now as to human eyes it seems, about to commemorate, for the last time, the death of thy Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer.  Grant, O Lord, that my whole hope and confidence may be in repentance; make this commemoration available to the confirmation of my faith, the establishment of my hope, and the enlargement of my charity; and make the death of thy Son Jesus Christ effectual to my redemption.  Have mercy upon me, and pardon the multitude of my offences.  Bless my friends; have mercy upon all men.  Support me, by thy Holy Spirit, in the days of weakness, and at the hour of death; and receive me, at my death, to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

Some people today may find such wording old-fashioned to the point of being obsolete.  Moreover, the sense of sinfulness conveyed by Johnson’s balanced clauses may seem as quaint and archaic as the Georgian proportions of Colonial Williamsburg.  Since the old principle is to pray as one can, not as one cannot, then private prayers that leave one cold by seeming pompous and worthless ought to be avoided.

For others, though, his prayers may be just what they long have needed.  Johnson’s prayers will thus nourish someone starving for richer fare and sustain an appetite reared on sturdy steak and ale English prose from around 1600 that makes recent religious and even biblical prose seem as bland as a block of tofu and a bottle of Evian.


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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June 19th, 2014The Neglected Genius of Hilaire Bellocby Joseph Pearce

Here's my latest article for the American Conservative.


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June 19th, 2014Racial Hatred and Rational Loveby Joseph Pearce

Here's an interview that I gave to a Spanish magazine, published today in the National Catholic Register. I am grateful to the NCR for making this interview available in English.


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June 19th, 2014Art and the Mystery of Womanby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Here's a photo I've posted before.  It's a picture I took of a stained / painted glass window at a rural church in the archdiocese of St. Louis.  It's by the Emil Frei studios, and I'm guessing it's c. 1910, which is when their best work was done.

And here's a painting by my friend, artist Ali Cavanaugh.

The similarity is striking, as in both cases the artist captures what I would call the Mystery of Woman.

Here's Ali's painting enlarged.

What a beautiful, indescribable, captivating work!

It is a portrait of Ali's studio assistant, done with a kind of fresco technique - watercolor on a clay surface.

I interviewed Ali for the St. Austin Review and you can read that interview here.


Today we begin the novena for the co-patron of the Fraternity of St. Genesius, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whose feast day is June 28 this year.  Part of what Mary reveals to us, in revealing the Word Incarnate, is the Mystery of Woman, a mystery that's been trampled on for many years.  May we see more clearly that deep mystery as we ask Our Lady to pray for us!

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June 18th, 2014When Baseball Meets Cricketby Joseph Pearce

I have a feeling that I might have posted this hilarious English commentary of a baseball game before but it's so funny that I'm happy to post it again.

It's been said that Britain and the United States are two countries separated by a common language. Listening to this commentary illustrates the point. The question is whether Englishmen are more baffled by baseball than Americans are by cricket.


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June 17th, 2014Christians: Scum of the Earthby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

We know Christ is Lord not simply because Christ survived death and the cross, but because He survives Christians.

If Truth, Beauty and Goodness bring us to Christ, it is a miracle He survives our Lies, Ugliness and Evil.

But He is the thin thread that takes us through the maze of darkness.

Let's take a few examples.

  • When a Catholic celebrity causes a scandal by his antichristian behavior, the world outside the Church watches us.  They watch us to see how consistent we are.  Will be be true to Christ or will we get defensive and cover our wounded pride, circling the wagons and defending mere men, even at the cost of sacrificing (again) the Son of Man who saved us?  

  • The world expects us to be hypocrites, for the world realizes, at some level, that Christians are called to something that is, humanly speaking, impossible.  To see a man shoot for the stars and fall flat on his face is perhaps disappointing, but to see a man claim that by lying flat on his face he is shooting for the stars is disgusting.  And so when we busy ourselves by building elaborate sophistries that rationalize things like Lying, Lust and Torture, we stand as witness to our own foolish scheming malevolence, even while we pat ourselves on the back for being wise and simple and good.  We have our reward and our reward is a secret contempt in the eyes of our neighbors - as well as the cold eternal winter of someplace more horrible than hell.

  • In the movie Ferris Beuller's Day Off, in the scene where the kid kicks the car out of the window in a fit of fury, we realize something: it's not that Ferris' best friend's father doesn't love his son at all; it's that the father loves his car more ... which, of course, is not much of a consolation.  Nothing hurts more than realizing that someone who ought to love you simply doesn't love you - even if they've promised to love you, or are bound to love you.  Sometimes they love you to a point, but they love other things more - their car, their job, their house of cards, false friends who thrill them more than true friends do.  And yet we know love is real.  We know love is God.  We know that if love ever really died out the whole world over, then somehow existence itself would end.  But parents neglect their children (even in the posh neighborhoods), husbands cheat on wives (in every kind of neighborhood) and friends abandon friends (everywhere).  We live for love - all of us - but the light of love grows dim - as we prefer darkness to light, the better to cloak our evil deeds (John 3:19).

  • Almost everything that happens at Mass, and I suspect at most Protestant services, is fake.  We hear platitudes from the pulpit, and generally shallow ones at that.  We hear music that wouldn't be played at a "gay wedding" much less at a Mass.  We see ugly statues and art, unless the church has been denuded of anything artistic.  We are surrounded by an architecture and an atmosphere that smells more like shopping mall than sacred space.

But somehow through all this, He survives.  He and His Church should have died long ago.  In fact, He did and It did, many times over.

And we die a little every day.

For this is part of what it means to be a Christian.  He is held in contempt, and if we are true to Him, if we follow that thin thread that takes us through the maze, overcoming the monstrous Minotaur (for Christ is that thin and barely perceptible thread), we will know the cross as He did.

Be true to Him even if your bishop betrays Him.  Be true to Him even if your spouse betrays you, your friends revile you and your dog leaves you.  Be true to Him even if half the people around you are busy nailing Him to the cross while singing sappy hymns about how much they love Him.

Be true to Him, for this is what it means to be a Christian - fidelity through pain, through the desert, through absurdity, through contempt.  

To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. (1 Cor. 4:11-13)

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June 17th, 2014“You Have Two Cows…”by Brendan D. King

Anglo-Irish Liberalism.
Your absentee landlord has a herd of cattle and has assigned you two
cows for your rented plot of a one-sixth acre. Acting through his
agents on the estate, the landlord can demand as much rent as he wants
as often as he wants and routinely evicts families too destitute to
pay. With a few potato plants, milk, and eggs, you and your family
barely evade starvation. When the potatoes rot in the ground and
everyone is starving, , His Lordship refuses to. to cut down on his
demands for rent, continues exporting food, and keeps a steel grip on
the hunting and fishing rights. When he finally visits the estate, the
landlord is fatally shot in front of a hundred witnesses. A police
investigation is stymied by the traditional Irish code of silence.

Scottish Liberalism.
You have two cows and pasture them in the glen where your family and
clansmen have lived for a thousand years. After Culloden, your Chief
and his family move to London and decide that herds of sheep are more
profitable than people. Ignoring the custom that the land is the
property of the whole Clan, the Chief serves eviction notices on
everyone excep the Gillies who care for his deer herd. When you and
everyone else refuse to leave, the Chief calls in the redcoats to burn
out your crofts. Left with nothing but the clothes you wear, you and
your family migrate on foot to a Dickensian slum in Glasgow. What once
gave life to thousands is left a howling wilderness except for sheep,
red deer, and rich tourists on hunting holidays. The Chief builds an
opulent mansion with the profits. Two hundred years later the Chief's
descendants are unable to afford the upkeep of the house and are
forced to sell it at a loss.

You have two cows. The Nazis demand that you provide a weekly quota od milk
on pain of death. The local Soviet partisan unit takes the milk at gunpoint
to deny it to German bellies. The Nazis accuse you of lying and shoot you.
In their haste to burn down your farm, they torch the barn with both cows

You have two cows. The State demands that they be handed over without
payment, "For the good of the Revolution." When you refuse, they are taken
at gunpoint. The United States and the Vatican spend billions to relieve
the ensuing famine. The Party takes all the foodstuffs and sells them
abroad as proof of "superior Soviet agricultural practices."

You have two cows. The Party declares you a Kulak for having more than your
neighbors and deprts you and your family to Soviet Central Asia. Your
former neighbors are then ordered to give up their private plots and become
employees of a State-owned collective farm. When they refuse, the secret
police seizes all the food and starves them into submission. What was once
the breadbasket of Europe is transformed into a howling wilderness. Comrade
Stalin is forced to begin importing food from, "decadent Capitalist

Your collective farm has two pigs. One of them looks just like Nikita

Social Democracy.
You have two sick cows. You take them to the local State-run animal
hospital only to discover that it has no vets, nurses, or patients. There
is only office space for public health bureaucrats. Your Representative's
attempts to alter this aee stymied by threats of a general strike.

You have twi cows and are unable to compete with corporate mega-farms. So.
you market the milk "Organic" and sell is for exhorbitant prices to
Limosine Liberals. You laugh all the way to the bank.

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June 16th, 2014What is Distributism?by Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative has generated lots of reaction, justifying my description of distributism in the subtitle of my article as a "controversial alternative to socialism and plutocracy". I'm also pleased to see that the article has also been picked up by Crisis, which has posted it this morning. Here's the link:


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June 14th, 2014Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Musical”by Brendan D. King

Brothers Jon and Al Kaplan are satirical composers who specialize in spoofing serious movies by transforming them into musicals. Their targets have ranged from 1980s action films to Oscar-winners. Two years ago, the Kaplan brothers trained their aim against Tolkien's Middle Earth Legendarium. 

Well, not exactly. Their real targets are Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema. And I must say that the satire is both well- merited and very funny. So, without further ado, here it is:



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June 14th, 2014The Controversial Roy Campbellby Joseph Pearce

Several years ago I wrote a biography of the great and neglected poet, Roy Campbell.

Considering my own admiration for Campbell I am pleased to see a new article on his life and legacy posted on the internet. The article is good and refreshing, though culpably devoid of all sources for which it is clearly dependent. My only concern is that it is published on a site that idolises and idealises idiots, such as Nietzsche, and neo-Nazis, such as Tyndall. Campbell deserves better than to find himself unjustifiably in the company of such enemies of the the True West, which is Christian. Nonetheless, and in spite of these reservations, I'm providing a link to the article: 


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June 13th, 2014Meeting Chesterton After His Deathby Joseph Pearce

My good friend Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, has written an excellent article for today's Crisis:


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June 12th, 2014Our Own Dena Hunt on the Radioby Joseph Pearce

I've just had the pleasure of listening to Dena Hunt, StAR's book review editor, being interviewed on Radio Maria. 

Dena talks about her time with me and Father Fessio on a pilgrimage to England back in 2006 and explains how this inspired her to write Treason, her award-winning novel set in Elizabethan England.

In the second half of the show, Jason Evert, author of a new biography of St. John Paul II is interviewed. Here's the link:


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June 11th, 2014Signs and Wondersby Dena Hunt

Recently I wrote a post about “those other gods” in which I speculated that the reason we are so reluctant to acknowledge spiritual phenomena in our lives is not that we’re such faithful Christians, but that we’re such faithful rationalists; i.e., it’s not as children of God that we dismiss everything “unscientific” as superstition, but as children of the Enlightenment. 

Is there a faithful Christian who, in moments of doubt or distress, has not opened the Bible and let it fall to a passage in order to “see” the answer to that doubt and distress? Are we not given signs and wonders in the natural, physical world that we may understand as supernatural, metaphysical?  

A few examples: trees, black dogs, birds, serpents, cats. Also, sudden winds, inexplicable darkness and sudden shadows as well as flashes of light which seem to come from nowhere, the sudden presence of beautiful fragrance without any source. Sometimes, choral singing of no known melody, a violin-like sound that pierces the heart, or distant drums. For some people, it’s bodies of water—or wild horses.

I don’t have a problem with this. I don’t think it’s primitive or “ignorant.” Maybe because I carry the DNA of my English country ancestors, but I do think the Holy Spirit may speak to us in symbolic language that he knows we’ll understand, even if that level is too deep for rational “enlightened” minds to grasp. And through some of this language, I’ve been assured about some things, alerted about others, and prepared for certain sorrows. I don’t require a scientific explanation of my guardian angel’s rare but trusted messages. Thus, I was spiritually prepared when I knew that “something like” my mother’s death was coming. I was also made to accept the death of a beloved companion as imminent, and I was forewarned of the betrayal of a trusted friend. When signs come, I don’t understand them; I only know that it’s a sign. Afterwards, I understand it. And I recognize that the purpose of the sign was to alert or warn me, prepare me to accept something I am unable to allow into the realm of possibility, or to reassure or comfort me in the midst of sorrow, pain, or fear.  

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June 11th, 2014The Lion’s Heart, new editionby Dena Hunt

I’ve just been informed by Full Quiver Publishing that the Kindle edition of my second novel, The Lion’s Heart, is now available on Amazon. The print edition will be out later this month. Here’s the link:


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June 10th, 2014More on My Visit to Spainby Joseph Pearce

Another article about my recent visit to Spain has just been published in a Spanish website. Here's the link for Spanish speakers:


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June 9th, 2014On Reading Dracula (or Any Other Novel)by Joseph Pearce

Continuing my recent practice of sharing my correspondence with visitors to the Ink Desk, I was intrigued to receive an e-mail from someone who is beginning to read Bram Stoker's Dracula for the first time. Being a wise and discerning reader, he had selected the Ignatius Critical Edition of the novel but wondered whether he should read the introduction before or after reading the novel. He was concerned that the introduction would contain spoilers which would take away the joy of surprise in plot twists, which is part of the pleasure of reading a work for the first time. Here's my reply:

There are two good ways of reading a work of literature, i.e. leisurely and objectively. Since you are reading Dracula leisurely, i.e. for the pure love of the thing without seeking to engage it on an academic or scholarly level (at least at this stage), I would advise that you not read the introduction first. You should simply enjoy the work as you see it subjectively and then, when you're finished with the reading of it, you should test your subjective impressions in the light of the introduction and critical essays published in the Ignatius edition. In other words, read the novel first and then the introduction and other essays afterwards. 

As a couple of gentle pointers, Stoker was a believing Christian but not a Catholic. He seems to be simultaneously fascinated by, and ignorant of, Catholicism. As for the form of the book, its epistolary approach is somewhat loose and rambling. In my judgment, it would have benefited from some judicious editing prior to publication. 

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June 8th, 2014On the Lighter Sideby Dena Hunt

For some light, entertaining reading, I want to recommend Don’t You Forget About Me, by Erin McCole-Cupp. The best part of the story is its protagonist, Mary Catherine Whelihan, aka Mary Cate Wheeler, children’s author. Under extreme pressure from her publisher, she returns to her Jersey roots and Our Lady of the Seven Dolors Elementary School for a reunion of the class of ’84 and a re-encounter with her overweight and very uncool childhood self. She also encounters murder, decades-old mystery, corporate conspiracy, and of course, romance. Mary Catherine is a funny romantic heroine in the best tradition of that type—one thinks of really good old movies with stars like Rosalind Russell, Lucille Ball, etc. It’s a fun, uplifting read for those times when there’s been a bit too much heaviness going down for a bit too long. I hope there’s a sequel for Mary Catherine and her childhood crush—now doctor-hero boyfriend (who reminds me of Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, or Fred MacMurray). 

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June 8th, 2014Customs and Habitsby Fr. Simon Henry

“Customs are generally unselfish. Habits are nearly always selfish.”

Fr Hunwicke draws attention to the "mutual enrichment" between the ancient and the newer forms of the Mass, picking up on a theme in an interview by the Abbot of Fontgombault, reported on Rorate Caeli and elewhere. The Abbot suggests: 

"Many young priests attached to the lectionary of the ordinary form, that they follow habitually, want a liturgy that is richer in the level of rites, associating more strictly the body to the celebration. Would it not be possible to propose in the ordinary form the prayers of the offertory, to enrich it with the genuflections, inclinations, signs of the cross of the extraordinary form? A rapprochement would [thus] easily take place between the two forms, giving an answer to a legitimate and, additionally, longed-for desire of Benedict XVI."

For any priest who was trained in the time since Vatican II who has discovered the richness and depth of the more ancient form of the Roman Rite, it becomes almost impossible not to just bring a similar ars celebranda into the new Mass but also, almost automatically, to incorporate some of the actions that were pared away after the changes.  Certainly the new translation of the Canon makes much more obvious the direct parallel with the Latin text and so gives more of a similar feel. 

I'm quite sure there will be those who read this who will cry, "But Father, you are not supposed to alter anything in the liturgy!"  G. K Chesterton points out that, “Customs are generally unselfish. Habits are nearly always selfish". I venture to suggest that we have abandoned old customs for new habits and it does not serve us well.  The gestures and customs from the ancient form of the Mass have been hallowed by past generations and are not alien to the Mass itself. Indeed, Pope Benedict made it quite clear that  what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too.  Many newhabits in the liturgy are to be found nowhere in our tradition nor in the present Roman Missal and are routinely tacked on to the Mass in most parishes:  strange items other than bread and wine being brought up in the Offertory procession; "children's liturgy"; the replacement of the entrance, offertory and communion antiphons with hymns (or even secular songs); dance; drama; non-Catholic laity and ministers reading or leading prayers; the routine use of extraordinary ministers as a way of "involving" laity instead of as an act of service when absolutely necessary; the abandonment of sacred vestments; the use of pottery chalices; the unnecessary use of unconsecrated places for the celebration of Mass; the admittance of non-Catholics to Holy Communion; the admittance of whole congregations unfamiliar with weekly Mass (such as school Masses) to Holy Communion; blessings at the time of Holy Communion; etc etc etc.

All these and many more are routinely accepted without murmur, so a few gestures firmly rooted in our catholic tradition shouldn't cause too many problems. Indeed, I even have an altar card for the Ordinary Form - lest I forget the words of Consecration in Latin!!

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June 7th, 2014Solzhenitsyn on the Crisis in the Ukraineby Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative highlights the prophetic prescience of Alexander Solzhenitsyn regarding the crisis in the Ukraine and also outlines the solution to the crisis in accordance with Solzhenitsyn's principles:


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June 6th, 2014The Top Ten English Poetsby Joseph Pearce

Further to the earlier correspondence about the greatest English writers, which I’ve already shared on the Ink Desk, I’ve received a follow-up e-mail, which I’ve also decided to share. This time, my correspondent asked for a list purely of poets. By way of clarification and justification, I should probably confess that my “top ten poets” is tinged or tainted by favouritism, which is to say that I’ve allowed myself to be swayed by my own subjective preferences and have not necessarily sought to provide an objective list. If I had tried to be strictly objective, I would have been forced reluctantly to put Milton on the list and, less reluctantly, Donne, Herbert and Tennyson.

Here’s the note from my correspondent:   

I love Joseph's list. But I think you almost have to have a separate list

for poets.  Hopkins is the only pure non-prose writer in the list.  If you

had a separate list purely for poets who would be the top 5.  I'm most

familiar with Hopkins and believe him to be one of a kind.  Who else

deserves to be in top 5?  Newman's verse is good and Lead Kindly Light is

great but I'm not sure his other poetry ranks as the best of the best.


And here’s my response:

Another great question, though surely Shakespeare and Chaucer can be considered poets. My top ten:

1. Shakespeare

2. Chaucer

3. Hopkins

4. Keats

5. Coleridge

7. Wordsworth

8. Crashaw

9. Belloc

10. Francis Thompson

Chesterton is also hovering on the edge of the list, as are Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. 

And how could I have left out Dryden!

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June 6th, 2014Unreality: The Spirit of Antichristby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Unreality is the shirking of the cross.

What is Unreality?  It is the creation of a controllable substitute for reality, a house of cards, a false life that excludes from its borders anything that would challenge us or take us out of our comfort zones; it excludes therefore the Holy Ghost.  Art and fiction are not necessarily examples of Unreality, for art and fiction can convey elements of reality that non-fiction can not.  But our lives can be examples of a kind of fiction that avoids reality rather than imaginatively portraying it or celebrating it.

Tools of Unreality can include

  • Drugs, which help us find a false contentment and a seemingly manageable paradise.
  • Contraception and Pornography, which help us find sexual pleasure without the great and frightening reality of love and marriage.
  • Hand-wringing and Crocodile Tears, which help us to convince ourselves that we are not nearly as selfish as we are.

Of the latter, psychologist Carl Jung said ...

Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.

And all these selfish flights of fancy have something in common: avoiding love.

For love is not only willing the good of another (as St. Thomas Aquinas said) but sacrificing and suffering in order to actualize that will.

That's Reality.

When Bishop Futon Sheen says that the satanic is nothing other than the "anti-cross", the rejection of Christ's Cross and all that it represents, such as discipline, mortification and suffering, he's describing this Spirit of Unreality.

One of the literary figures that illustrates our human penchant for Unreality is Peter Pan, the Boy who Would Not Grow Up, the Eternal Child who takes any false adventure, any fiction, over Wendy and hearth and home.  G. K. Chesterton said of Peter Pan's denial of what is real, of what is scary and demanding ...

He might have chosen love, with the inevitable result of love, which is incarnation, and the inevitable result of incarnation, which is crucifixion.

In our airy never-never land of make-believe, where love does not go beyond what is convenient, where a person's sex and identity is whatever we choose to make it, where money and work have nothing to do with one another, where friends and even lovers are made and discarded in a moment, we live the Spirit of Unreality, we reject (as Peter Pan does) love and the fruits of love: incarnation and crucifixion.  We reject what is real in order to avoid the burden of the cross.

And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. - Luke 9:23 

Unreality is the shirking of the cross.  It is a lie.  It is untrue.  It is a fantasy.  It is neurotic suffering, hand wringing, crocodile tears.

Reality is the truth.  It is love.  It leads to incarnation (making babies), which leads to crucifixion (changing diapers and the heart aches our children put us through).

We live in an antichristian age, an age that rejects both the dirty diapers and the babies that make them, an age of sterility, an age of self-serving artifice, an age of make-believe.

And the Spirit of Antichrist is Unreality.

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June 6th, 2014The Greatest English Writersby Joseph Pearce

I've just received an e-mail question, which I had fun in answering and thought I'd share with visitors to the Ink Desk. Here's the text of the e-mail:

Who do you think is the third greatest British ( English? which is the right word?) writer? Remember Eliot is really American. I am talking of fiction.... novelist, playwright, poet .... in the nonfiction category I think I might say Chesterton or Newman. Churchill would rank high I think .... and I say that as one who has mixed opinions about Churchill. (It just hit me.... is either Dickens/Tolkien or Tolkien/Dickens. No drama about number 1.)

My response:

The correct word is English unless we want to include the Scots, Welsh or Irish. Shakespeare is obviously number one. No drama about that, as you say! Eliot is indeed American, though Eliot might not have liked to hear you say it! The great Thomist, Jacques Maritain, said that the reason that Eliot never became a Catholic was because he exhausted all his powers of conversion when he became an Englishman!

You might also be interested to learn that Belloc in his irritable old age dismissed Churchill "as a yank"! I think, however, that this is going a little too far!

But back to your question ...

The greatest English writers of fiction and/or poetry, me judice, are Chaucer, Austen, Dickens, Hopkins, and Tolkien. I'm not comfortable about placing them in any particular order but, in the spirit of the game, I'll list the top five English poets and novelists as follows:

1. Shakespeare

2. Tolkien

3. Dickens

4. Austen

5. Chaucer

6. Hopkins


As for non-fiction writers:

1. Churchill (half-American)

2. Newman

3. Lingard

4. Chesterton

5. Belloc (half-French)

6. Bede


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June 5th, 2014Preview of the July/August issue of the St. Austin Reviewby Joseph Pearce

The next issue of the St. Austin Review will soon be winging its way to the printers. The theme is St. Robert Southwell: Priest, Poet, Martyr.

  Highlights include:

  F. W. Brownlow reflects on “A Plaintive Muse: Robert Southwell’s Attack on Elizabethan Terror”.

  Joseph Pearce examines “The Bard and the Jesuit: Robert Southwell’s Influence on William Shakespeare”.

  Joseph Pearce reveals “Shakespeare’s Homage to Robert Southwell” in King Lear.

  Gary M. Bouchard sees “The Enduring Legacy of Robert Southwell” in his influence on a host of other poets from John Donne to Gerard Manley Hopkins.

  Melissa Siik discusses “Robert Southwell and the Formation of English National Identity”.

  Fr. Benedict Kiely rejoices in “The Joyful Witness of the English Martyrs”.

  The full colour art feature focuses on the work of Gwyneth Holston and her perceptions of “The Role of Art and the Vocation of the Artist”.

  Kevin O’Brien sees the use of torture today and in Elizabethan England as “The Destruction of God in Man”.

  Fr. Dwight Longenecker sees the parallels between “Science Fiction and the Metaphysicals”.

  James Bemis’s regular film review focuses on Monsieur Vincent.

  Donald DeMarco vents his justifiable spleen against the blatant bias of the New York Times.

  Regis Martin, Greg Peters, Paula Gallagher, Stephen Mirarchi, Thaddeus Kozinski, Rachel Ronnow, Ken Colston, Mitchell Kalpakgian and Marie Dudzik review eleven new books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

  New poetry by Pavel Chichikov, Donald DeMarco, Stephanie A. Mann and Lisa Salinas.

  Don't Miss Out! Subscribe On-Line from this Site!

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June 5th, 2014The Murder of Merrie Englandby Stephen Brady

Central to the Whig interpretation of English history with which generations of English – and indeed American – schoolchildren have been imbued is the idea that England is, and in some sense always was, an essentially Protestant nation.  For over 400 years Catholicism has been portrayed as a foreign, alien imposition which the English people gladly threw off, thereby forsaking the dark clouds of the Middle Ages for the blue skies of happy Modernity.

In a recent article in the UK’s Telegraph, author and historian Dominic Selwood lays bare the utter falsehood of all this: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/dominicselwood/100272287/how-a-protestant-spin-machine-hid-the-truth-about-the-english-reformation/

He reveals that England was, instead, an essentially Catholic country. As he puts it “medieval religion in this country was, for a thousand years, as English as tea, warm beer, Maypole dancing, and cricket.” Merrie England was merrie in so far as it was Catholic, and Catholicism itself, far from being some foreign imposition, was at the heart of traditional England. The Faith, writes Selwood, “had developed a particularly English flavour, with a focus on the involvement of ordinary people in parish churches, village greens, plays, and pageants – much of which seemed to involve a good deal of community parties, dancing, and drinking.”

Protestantism in England did not arise spontaneously from below. It was imposed, for cynical and self-interested motives from above, and imposed brutally and ruthlessly upon a resentful but powerless English people (not the last such unwanted ideological imposition to serve the self-interest of the powerful they were to suffer in like manner…)

The crushing of Catholic England was a step in the replacement of Faith, Hope and Charity as the underlying values of Western societies by Cynicism, Selfishness and Greed which led to today’s vacuous anti-cultural consumerism and the exaltation of the god of GDP before which today’s politicians and – aptly named – “opinion formers” fawn and bow.

As Dr Selwood reveals, one consequence of the so-called “Reformation” was that “parishes were also deprived of around 40 to 50 saints’ “holy days” (holidays) a year, when no servile work was allowed from noon the previous day. This was a dramatic change to the rhythms of life the country had known for centuries. The reformers were keenly aware this would boost economic activity, and welcomed the increase in output it would bring”.

Selwood’s article paints a very clear picture of the sort of people who tore the heart out of their own nation and people, becoming very rich in the process. Henry the King, who for motives that can charitably be seen as ruthless raisons d’etat (the quest for a male heir) or, less charitably, as the service of his own lusts, betrayed the Faith he had once ably and eloquently defended and which, as Dr Selwood reveals, he never personally ceased to believe, hearing Mass regularly to his dying day.

Thomas Cromwell, the King’s brutal fixer and henchman, was captured for posterity in the portrait by Holbein, in which the great artist has clearly and brilliantly captured his subject’s soul. He looks like Avarice personified, a cold-eyed ruthless servant of himself.

Other ignoble nobles of Cromwell’s ilk cast aside their faith and scruples in the cause of personal enrichment. Like jackals they followed the King and Cromwell to plunder their own people and strip away the caring shelter for the poor that the Church had provided for centuries, leaving the poor and the powerless naked beneath the Lidless Eye of Greed. The villagers, the happy hobbits of Merrie England, were driven from their common lands, which were “enclosed” by law to serve the rich, and herded into stinking tenements to break their bodies and impoverish their souls in the aptly named “dark Satanic mills”.

Mines and factories sprung up as the growing greed machine of commerce befouled the lands of Britain, ere its tendrils spread forth under the banner of Empire to grasp the world.  Worst of all, as Dr Selwood demonstrates, the slaves thus delivered up helpless to be exploited and enslaved by the Sauronic engine of what has now become global capitalism were taught to rejoice in their chains and see the destruction of all they once were and believed as an “enlightened” liberation. As Dr Selwood observes, this “enlightenment” was erected on the wholesale destruction of the cultural treasures of Merrie England and a Nazi-style burning of books : “The result was the wholesale destruction of a millennium of irreplaceable English craftsmanship in windows, statues, frescoes, and paintings. The Tate recently estimated that over 90 per cent of all English art was trashed in the period, and scarcely a handful of books survived the burning of the great monastic and university libraries. Oxford’s vast Bodleian, for instance, was left without a single book.”

The death, indeed the deliberate murder, of Merrie England, which Dr Selwood describes, and the lies by which the perpetrators justified their crime, was the sprouting of the evil seed of a soulless engine of ruthless selfishness which was ultimately to cast aside the Protestantism under whose cover it had grown to proclaim openly that “Greed is Good”, and that serving short-term self-interest is the ultimate end of human aspirations.

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June 5th, 2014Marxism, Fascism, and Narcissismby Brendan D. King

Hilary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi were arguing about who was more tolerant.

"You fool," snapped Pelosi, "I'm twice the Progressive you are. I was sent by God to save America from Fascism!"

"No way," responded Clinton, "you're the fool and I was sent by God to save America from Fascism!"

Just as they were about to come to blows, they saw Barack Obama walking by. They rushed over on the spot.

"Mr. President! Mr. President!" called Pelosi, "Was it I who was sent by God to save America from Fascism, or was it this fool?!"

For a moment, Obama looked perplexed. Then he said, "I don't remember sending anybody..."

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June 3rd, 2014Poets in the Trenchesby Joseph Pearce

A friend has sent me this fanciful but charming dramatization of the two great war poets, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves:



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June 3rd, 2014Farewell Fair Weather Christiansby Joseph Pearce

No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. - Matthew 6:24 

The words of Christ say it plainly enough. We cannot serve two masters. We have to choose between God and mammon. We must be moved by the Heilige Geist or the Zeitgeist; the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of the Age. We must build our faith on the Rock of Ages or follow the fads and fashions of our own time. In the language of the theologians we must remain orthodox or succumb to modernism. What is clear, as Christ says clearly, is that we cannot serve both masters. 

This timeless truth can be seen in the implosion of those Christian denominations who have sought to follow the fads and fashions of the world, in the vain belief that this would make their faith "relevant". In fact, as these shrivelling denominations prove, the best way of ensuring that a denomination becomes irrelevant tomorrow is to try to be "relevant" today.

The Anglican church abandoned any pretense of orthodoxy in order to move with the times, and has become, in consequence, a shrivelled shadow of its former self. Now, as new figures show, the Presbyterian Church of the USA, having embraced all the fads and fashions of our own deplorable epoch is collapsing in dramatic fashion. As this report shows, the PCUSA has shrunk by almost 7 per cent in only twelve months: http://www.christianpost.com/news/pcusa-decline-in-churches-members-continued-in-2013-120725/ 

Having embraced the "relevance" of feminism and homosexualism, the Presbyterians have made themselves utterly irrelevant and have doomed themselves to oblivion.

Make no mistake about it, the same fate awaits any church that surrenders to the Zeitgeist. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve God and mammon, nor can we serve God and Sodom. 

The way of the world leads to the gates of hell, which will prevail against any of the false churches who choose the world's ways over God's. By contrast, the gates of hell will never prevail against the True Church that Christ Himself founded because Christ Himself said so. 

As Chesterton reminds us, we do not want a Church that will move with the world but a Church that will move the world.

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June 3rd, 2014Money, Guns and Godby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Nothing is ever done in this world until men are prepared to kill one another if it is not done. - George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara.


UNDERSHAFT. ... there are two things necessary to Salvation.
CUSINS [disappointed, but polite] Ah, the Church Catechism. Charles Lomax also belongs to the Established Church.
UNDERSHAFT. The two things are--
CUSINS. Baptism and--
UNDERSHAFT. No. Money and gunpowder. -
 - Shaw, Major Barbara.

One of the things Shaw is saying here is that there are two indications that people are serious: money and guns.  If someone is serious enough to pay for something or to kill for something, he's serious.  In fact, everything up to the point of the flash of cash or the flash of gunpowder is a kind of game.

Those of us in show business see this game a lot.  "Oh, we love what you do!" our prospects tell us.  "Would you perform for us?  Here?"

When you say, "Gladly, and here's what it will cost," they smile at you and walk away.  My response: If you love me so much, pay me.

It's also been our experience that there's one foolproof way to make sure a client promotes a show he's booked with us.  Charge him a non-refundable deposit - one that's enough to cause some pain if he forfeits it.  And if you're taking a cut of the door, always insist upon a sizable guaranteed minimum - otherwise half the time, the client will get lazy, neglect any promotion (except maybe putting a flyer up in the men's room), and then blame you for a low turnout the night of the show.

I am not making this up.  The flyer to the left of the urinal is advertising that night's murder mystery dinner theater show - for which almost no one bought tickets.  This has happened to us more than once.  And it always happens when we've charged a low guarantee or taken no deposit.

But what does God have to do with all of this?


I have known three women whose lives were marked by a great devotion to Unreality.  They were all three particularly intelligent and sensitive young women, and prone to heights of imaginative intensity.  You could know these women for years and never think they had anything real in their lives - that everything they did was all a kind of elaborate fantasy.

But they all three had something real they cared for.  You just had to find it, usually by stumbling upon it.  You never knew where you stood with them from day to day on any subject, as their heads were in the clouds and their hearts were chasing unicorns.  Until you stepped on the thing that mattered.  Then the guns came out and the money came out.

I have changed the names to protect their identities - but what follows is fairly accurate.

  • AMBER lived with her parents and siblings long into her adulthood.  She loved certain books and romantic movies and make-believe.  She appeared to be living a life of chastity, not even dating much.  She was a kind, sensitive creature who was very adept at keeping up an artificial courtesy even with friends she didn't like.  Her life appeared to be a kind of gauzy dream.
Then she heard the clicking of her biological clock, picked out her man and made up her mind to marry him.  If anyone would have stood in her way, she would have loaded a gun and killed that person.  The entire focus of her existence was matrimony, come hell or high water.  We finally saw the thing she was Real about.  When it came to the focus of her life, she had no patience with Unreality or with games.  Damn the torpedoes, full wedding bells ahead.

  • MONICA, by contrast, loved the Unreality of her sexual escapades.  She was mostly a tease, but she also engaged in a surprising number of consummated encounters, which she had with either gender, behind her live-in boyfriend's back.  As to the boyfriend (who was usually depressed), she was more or less comfortable with him.  They seemed to have an odd but Unreal bond.  They even had their own language they spoke with one another - a kind of baby talk.  But neither had the slightest intention of staying with the other past the relationship's expiration date, whenever that might come.  This was all a game to Monica.  All of her relationships were Unreal.
But she took her job seriously.  Mess with the career, and Monica would mess with you.  Her boyfriend moving out was one thing; looking bad in front of her boss or coworkers was another.  Had you somehow threatened this lady's career, she would have become a pistol packin' mamma, unwilling to lay that pistol down.  The sexual adventures were Unreal; the career was Real enough to kill for.

  • ARTEMIS was a girl I dated many years ago.  She was into a number of bizarre things, mostly Ayn Rand and the conviction that she (Artemis) was one of the chosen elite, far above the ignorant masses who were not well-read and fond of Nietzsche as she was.  Nothing was real about Artemis' intellectual pursuits, and certainly her Catholic upbringing meant nothing to her.  Like Monica, she even invented her own language, though only she used it, often when she was casting spells - which seemed to be prayers of hatred, accompanied by weird hand gestures.  Yeah, her magic and her faux spirituality and her insipid philosophies were great big giant games.  
But she managed to make contact with a published author.  I once asked what the two of them talked about the one time they met.  She turned on me with fire in her eyes and told me it was none of my damn business.  She got out her bazooka and loaded it.  I realized I had touched the nerve - the one thing Real in her particularly Unreal life.


Now we all do this to one degree or another.  We all play games.  We all mess around and once the guns come out or somebody asks us to put our money where our mouths are, we quietly back out and go and play somewhere else.

But what would you call this thing - this One Thing that motivates us, the One Thing that is real and worth paying for or dying for, this one transcendental thing?

It is the Pearl of Great Price.

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Mat. 13:45-46)

Joseph Campbell once relayed this tale ...

There is a charming story told of the great nineteenth-century Indian saint Ramakrishna. A lady came to him in some distress because she had realized that she did not actually love and truly worship God. 'Is there, then, nothing you love?' he asked her; and when she replied that she loved her baby nephew, 'There,' said he, 'there is your Kṛṣṇa, your Beloved. In your service to him, you are serving God.'

It's sad when our Pearl of Great Price, when our god, is a mere idol, something ultimately passing and worldly, like a career or a drug.

And it's even sadder when our Catholic Faith is taken as lightly as the other Unrealities we indulge in.  Many Catholics I know would never think of shedding blood or paying cash for something as Unreal as the make-believe they see on display at their suburban parishes.

But as long as we have something Real we are heading in the right direction.  As long as we have something Real we will lose patience with that great artifice Sin, we will lose patience with ourselves and our contrived Unrealites, and we will commit ourselves toward becoming more and more Real.

And this growing devotion to Reality is ultimately a way of seeking God.  It is a kind of Incarnation - the inevitable result of which will always be a kind of crucifixion.  The Cross is always inevitable, always the result of love and loss.

To live any other way is Unreal.

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June 2nd, 2014Scientism is Bad for Your Healthby Joseph Pearce

Scientism is not science any more than progressivism is progress. Scientism is philosophical materialism posing as science. Like the progressive, the follower of scientism treats the past and the traditional wisdom of humanity with contempt. As such, it is blinded by its own chronological snobbery and by its pride and prejudice from being able to see true science. This is as true of the science of nutrition as it is true of so many other areas of science.

In the knowledge that scientism has poisoned the science of nutrition and, therefore, that it has also poisoned the very diet that we are being encouraged to adopt, my wife and I have long since followed more reliable guides, such as that to be found in the nutritionally traditionalist approach of the Weston Price Foundation and its journal, Nourishing Traditions

The traditionalist approach to nutrition, which demolishes the scientism of the diet dictocrats, is advocated in this excellent article in the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal
Fat (Reconsidered)
The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease
Are butter, cheese and steak really bad for you? The dubious science
behind the anti-fat crusade
May 3-4, 2014

"Saturated fat does not cause heart disease"—or so concluded a big
study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
How could this be? The very cornerstone of dietary advice for
generations has been that the saturated fats in butter, cheese and red
meat should be avoided because they clog our arteries. For many
diet-conscious Americans, it is simply second nature to opt for
chicken over sirloin, canola oil over butter.

The new study's conclusion shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with
modern nutritional science, however. The fact is, there has never been
solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only
believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed
over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad
science, politics and bias.

Our distrust of saturated fat can be traced back to the 1950s, to a
man named Ancel Benjamin Keys, a scientist at the University of
Minnesota. Dr. Keys was formidably persuasive and, through sheer force
of will, rose to the top of the nutrition world—even gracing the cover
of Time magazine—for relentlessly championing the idea that saturated
fats raise cholesterol and, as a result, cause heart attacks.

This idea fell on receptive ears because, at the time, Americans faced
a fast-growing epidemic. Heart disease, a rarity only three decades
earlier, had quickly become the nation's No. 1 killer. Even President
Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in 1955. Researchers were
desperate for answers.

As the director of the largest nutrition study to date, Dr. Keys was
in an excellent position to promote his idea. The "Seven Countries"
study that he conducted on nearly 13,000 men in the U.S., Japan and
Europe ostensibly demonstrated that heart disease wasn't the
inevitable result of aging but could be linked to poor nutrition.

Critics have pointed out that Dr. Keys violated several basic
scientific norms in his study. For one, he didn't choose countries
randomly but instead selected only those likely to prove his beliefs,
including Yugoslavia, Finland and Italy. Excluded were France, land of
the famously healthy omelet eater, as well as other countries where
people consumed a lot of fat yet didn't suffer from high rates of
heart disease, such as Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany. The
study's star subjects—upon whom much of our current understanding of
the Mediterranean diet is based—were peasants from Crete, islanders
who tilled their fields well into old age and who appeared to eat very
little meat or cheese.

As it turns out, Dr. Keys visited Crete during an unrepresentative
period of extreme hardship after World War II. Furthermore, he made
the mistake of measuring the islanders' diet partly during Lent, when
they were forgoing meat and cheese. Dr. Keys therefore undercounted
their consumption of saturated fat. Also, due to problems with the
surveys, he ended up relying on data from just a few dozen men—far
from the representative sample of 655 that he had initially selected.
These flaws weren't revealed until much later, in a 2002 paper by
scientists investigating the work on Crete—but by then, the
misimpression left by his erroneous data had become international

In 1961, Dr. Keys sealed saturated fat's fate by landing a position on
the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association, whose
dietary guidelines are considered the gold standard. Although the
committee had originally been skeptical of his hypothesis, it issued,
in that year, the country's first-ever guidelines targeting saturated
fats. The U.S. Department of Agriculture followed in 1980.

Other studies ensued. A half-dozen large, important trials pitted a
diet high in vegetable oil—usually corn or soybean, but not olive
oil—against one with more animal fats. But these trials, mainly from
the 1970s, also had serious methodological problems. Some didn't
control for smoking, for instance, or allowed men to wander in and out
of the research group over the course of the experiment. The results
were unreliable at best.

But there was no turning back: Too much institutional energy and
research money had already been spent trying to prove Dr. Keys's
hypothesis. A bias in its favor had grown so strong that the idea just
started to seem like common sense. As Harvard nutrition professor Mark
Hegsted said in 1977, after successfully persuading the U.S. Senate to
recommend Dr. Keys's diet for the entire nation, the question wasn't
whether Americans should change their diets, but why not? Important
benefits could be expected, he argued. And the risks? "None can be
identified," he said.

In fact, even back then, other scientists were warning about the
diet's potential unintended consequences. Today, we are dealing with
the reality that these have come to pass.

One consequence is that in cutting back on fats, we are now eating a
lot more carbohydrates—at least 25% more since the early 1970s.
Consumption of saturated fat, meanwhile, has dropped by 11%, according
to the best available government data. Translation: Instead of meat,
eggs and cheese, we're eating more pasta, grains, fruit and starchy
vegetables such as potatoes. Even seemingly healthy low-fat foods,
such as yogurt, are stealth carb-delivery systems, since removing the
fat often requires the addition of fillers to make up for lost
texture—and these are usually carbohydrate-based.

The problem is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which
causes the body to release insulin—a hormone that is fantastically
efficient at storing fat. Meanwhile, fructose, the main sugar in
fruit, causes the liver to generate triglycerides and other lipids in
the blood that are altogether bad news. Excessive carbohydrates lead
not only to obesity but also, over time, to Type 2 diabetes and, very
likely, heart disease.

The real surprise is that, according to the best science to date,
people put themselves at higher risk for these conditions no matter
what kind of carbohydrates they eat. Yes, even unrefined carbs. Too
much whole-grain oatmeal for breakfast and whole-grain pasta for
dinner, with fruit snacks in between, add up to a less healthy diet
than one of eggs and bacon, followed by fish. The reality is that fat
doesn't make you fat or diabetic. Scientific investigations going back
to the 1950s suggest that actually, carbs do.

The second big unintended consequence of our shift away from animal
fats is that we're now consuming more vegetable oils. Butter and lard
had long been staples of the American pantry until Crisco, introduced
in 1911, became the first vegetable-based fat to win wide acceptance
in U.S. kitchens. Then came margarines made from vegetable oil and
then just plain vegetable oil in bottles.

All of these got a boost from the American Heart Association—which
Procter & Gamble, the maker of Crisco oil, coincidentally helped
launch as a national organization. In 1948, P&G made the AHA the
beneficiary of the popular "Walking Man" radio contest, which the
company sponsored. The show raised $1.7 million for the group and
transformed it (according to the AHA's official history) from a small,
underfunded professional society into the powerhouse that it remains

After the AHA advised the public to eat less saturated fat and switch
to vegetable oils for a "healthy heart" in 1961, Americans changed
their diets. Now these oils represent 7% to 8% of all calories in our
diet, up from nearly zero in 1900, the biggest increase in consumption
of any type of food over the past century.

This shift seemed like a good idea at the time, but it brought many
potential health problems in its wake. In those early clinical trials,
people on diets high in vegetable oil were found to suffer higher
rates not only of cancer but also of gallstones. And, strikingly, they
were more likely to die from violent accidents and suicides. Alarmed
by these findings, the National Institutes of Health convened
researchers several times in the early 1980s to try to explain these
"side effects," but they couldn't. (Experts now speculate that certain
psychological problems might be related to changes in brain chemistry
caused by diet, such as fatty-acid imbalances or the depletion of

We've also known since the 1940s that when heated, vegetable oils
create oxidation products that, in experiments on animals, lead to
cirrhosis of the liver and early death. For these reasons, some
midcentury chemists warned against the consumption of these oils, but
their concerns were allayed by a chemical fix: Oils could be rendered
more stable through a process called hydrogenation, which used a
catalyst to turn them from oils into solids.

From the 1950s on, these hardened oils became the backbone of the
entire food industry, used in cakes, cookies, chips, breads,
frostings, fillings, and frozen and fried food. Unfortunately,
hydrogenation also produced trans fats, which since the 1970s have
been suspected of interfering with basic cellular functioning and were
recently condemned by the Food and Drug Administration for their
ability to raise our levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol.

Yet paradoxically, the drive to get rid of trans fats has led some
restaurants and food manufacturers to return to using regular liquid
oils—with the same long-standing oxidation problems. These dangers are
especially acute in restaurant fryers, where the oils are heated to
high temperatures over long periods.

The past decade of research on these oxidation products has produced a
sizable body of evidence showing their dramatic inflammatory and
oxidative effects, which implicates them in heart disease and other
illnesses such as Alzheimer's. Other newly discovered potential toxins
in vegetable oils, called monochloropropane diols and glycidol esters,
are now causing concern among health authorities in Europe.

In short, the track record of vegetable oils is highly worrisome—and
not remotely what Americans bargained for when they gave up butter and

Cutting back on saturated fat has had especially harmful consequences
for women, who, due to hormonal differences, contract heart disease
later in life and in a way that is distinct from men. If anything,
high total cholesterol levels in women over 50 were found early on to
be associated with longer life. This counterintuitive result was first
discovered by the famous Framingham study on heart-disease risk
factors in 1971 and has since been confirmed by other research.

Since women under 50 rarely get heart disease, the implication is that
women of all ages have been worrying about their cholesterol levels
needlessly. Yet the Framingham study's findings on women were omitted
from the study's conclusions. And less than a decade later, government
health officials pushed their advice about fat and cholesterol on all
Americans over age 2—based exclusively on data from middle-aged men.

Sticking to these guidelines has meant ignoring growing evidence that
women on diets low in saturated fat actually increase their risk of
having a heart attack. The "good" HDL cholesterol drops precipitously
for women on this diet (it drops for men too, but less so). The sad
irony is that women have been especially rigorous about ramping up on
their fruits, vegetables and grains, but they now suffer from higher
obesity rates than men, and their death rates from heart disease have
reached parity.

Seeing the U.S. population grow sicker and fatter while adhering to
official dietary guidelines has put nutrition authorities in an
awkward position. Recently, the response of many researchers has been
to blame "Big Food" for bombarding Americans with sugar-laden
products. No doubt these are bad for us, but it is also fair to say
that the food industry has simply been responding to the dietary
guidelines issued by the AHA and USDA, which have encouraged
high-carbohydrate diets and until quite recently said next to nothing
about the need to limit sugar.

Indeed, up until 1999, the AHA was still advising Americans to reach
for "soft drinks," and in 2001, the group was still recommending
snacks of "gum-drops" and "hard candies made primarily with sugar" to
avoid fatty foods.

Our half-century effort to cut back on the consumption of meat, eggs
and whole-fat dairy has a tragic quality. More than a billion dollars
have been spent trying to prove Ancel Keys's hypothesis, but evidence
of its benefits has never been produced. It is time to put the
saturated-fat hypothesis to bed and to move on to test other possible
culprits for our nation's health woes.

Ms. Teicholz has been researching dietary fat and disease for nearly
a decade. Her book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese
Belong in a Healthy Diet, will be published by Simon & Schuster on
May 13.

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May 28th, 2014The Death of a Celebrityby Joseph Pearce

Here's my latest for the Imaginative Conservative:


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May 28th, 2014Just Back from England with Memories of Spainby Joseph Pearce

Yesterday I returned home from four days in England, speaking at the Catholic Writers' Guild last Friday and at the Latin Mass Society conference on Saturday. On Sunday and Monday I indulged myself with visits to friends and family. 

Having returned home after a month of extensive travels in the USA and Europe, I hope to be able to write for the Ink Desk with much more frequency over the coming weeks. At present, I am climbing the mountain of e-mails that awaited me upon my return.

Until I can write something more extensive, here's the link to an interview I gave to the journal Aleteia in Barcelona on May 9: http://www.aleteia.org/es/religion/entrevistas/yo-odiaba-a-la-iglesia-catolica-pero-la-gracia-me-alcanzo-5774075800584192.  The second part of the interview will be published in a subsequent issue.

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May 28th, 2014About this “Scandal Business”…by Dena Hunt

Kevin’s post raises issues other than he might have meant it to do. The word “scandal” is worthy of meditation. The Benghazi scandal, the IRS scandal, the hit TV series “Scandal,” the heartbreaking scandal of homosexual pederasty in the Church. Scandal is everywhere, near and far, “cover-up” being the worst of all—except, maybe, for the embarrassing public breast-beatings we are subjected to. Nothing shocks now.

I don’t mean to write a public whine about this topic. That, too, has been done to death and proven to make no difference anyway. What’s worthy of meditation is the addictive nature of scandal. News junkies feed on it, media people make a living on it—the excitement, the fear (even terror), the titillation, the hold-your-breath what-will-happen-next consuming public, demanding more, and still more. As de-sensitization takes over, ever worse, more shocking shock is demanded by the addict. For that’s the nature of addiction.

As any recovering alcoholic knows, there’s not enough alcohol in the world to slake the thirst of an alcoholic. More is always required. There’s no such thing as sufficiency. Any crack-head knows there’s no great thrill in having your brain explode inside your head after the first time, only a need for ever greater explosions (thrills). That’s what addiction is.

All addiction ends in self-destruction. The public appetite for scandal is no different. When I was a child, the whole country was horrified by the trial, conviction and execution of—of all unbelievable things—a child rapist. Tame now, isn’t it? What’s not so apparent is that whole societies can self-destruct as easily as an individual, perhaps more easily, for the individuals therein are deceived by the communality of their addiction.

Addiction—any kind—is a high-speed train that makes no stops and has no destination, a train from which each person has to jump, one at a time. It’s no good saying: I’ll quit later. This train is different from other high-speed trains: Its speed increases every single minute; it runs faster at this moment than it did five minutes ago, and it will run even faster ten minutes from now. It’s no good saying: I’ll jump when everyone else does—jumps are individual, personal decisions, never in tandem—that’s a substitute addiction in which you bring another person to doom along with yourself.

Confession is the beginning of the cure. Admit the truth of the situation, stop making excuses, stop the phony compassion and false sentiment. Stop the procrastination, which inevitably drags you down into paralyzing inertia, where you can no longer take any action even if you wanted to, known as the point of no return. Those who have passed this point make certain kinds of noises, usually in tones of righteous (defensive) anger, about a “right” to know or even a “responsibility” to know. Know what? Why, whatever the scandal of the day is, of course.

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May 28th, 2014Lessons from Tolkien: Win by Destroying the Ringby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The most fascinating thing about J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is his insight into the psychology of sin.

The Ring is sin and while it corrupts and dehumanizes the one who holds it, he nevertheless holds it tighter and tighter.  Frodo's reluctance to sacrifice the ring at the climax of the adventure is one of the most stunning moments in all of literature.

Our sins indeed become our "precious".  The devil leads us into infinite corridors of narrowness and darkness as we attempt to rationalize not only our sin but also the slow death and diminution our sin is dealing us.

The solution?  Throw the Ring into the fire.

You can't deal with sin on its own terms; you can't escape from a trap once you've bought into the way-of-being that makes up the trap.  The way of sin is to attack the very nature of our existence.  This is how we know spiritual realities exist: we see them and feel them in action.  We are bound by the shackles of sin because we become like the shackles.  We are not simply tied up, our strength is sapped and we start to love the ropes.  That's why the Ring works so well as a symbol - it is something other-than-human that uses our own humanity to drain us of our humanity.  It diverts the best thing in us - our love and loyalty - and turns it into the worst thing imaginable: a self-consuming devotion to death and a greedy desire for more of the poison that is killing us.

This is also why Jesus Christ and His Cross is needed.  Sin is a closed system.  You can't raise yourself by your own bootstraps in a world dominated by sin.  The Ring must be destroyed, not bargained with, cajoled, excused.  It takes death to sin to defeat the death that flows from sin.  It takes sacrifice.

Indeed, it takes the ultimate sacrifice, the gift of love of the Son of God - the Cross, the Eucharist, and the life that flows from it.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4)

James Cuenod writes ...

Sauron will not be defeated by the use of the ring, only by its destruction. Sin will not be defeated by the use of sin. This is why we are urged time and again to “put to death” “the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) and “what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5). Sin cannot be wielded for good, it can only corrupt. ... So my exhortation is, “put to death whatever is earthly in you” and “clothe yourselves with compassionate hearts.”

This not only contradicts the fatuous nonsense of the consequentialists, with whom I do endless battle - those who argue that we can do evil so that good may come, those who say that we may Lie our way to Truth or Torture our way to Love.  It also opens up a great psychological insight to those who are observant.   Those of us who sin (all of us) can see its effects - it eventually turns us into Gollums, and yet it's so handy and so convenient and ... and after all ... it's so precious to us!

Life, like the Lord of the Rings, like any epic, is a great trial, a tremendous adventure.  The trial is ultimately by fire, by the searing heat and light of the love of God, but before that Final Day, the trial is every day, even every ordinary mundane day.  It is a story of a tremendous struggle in which our loyalties and our valor are tested in ways both small and big.

For even today, dear sinner, in your suburban home, in your air conditioned car, in your easy chair, in your living room - even today you are called to put on the armor of God and fight this battle.  Even today the Ring will call you and you will sing a silent love song to it and it will have you in its clutches.  Even today you will begin to lose.  You will begin to be lost.

But you are called, as are all of us sinners, not to defeat, but to victory - a victory beyond our imagining.

Fight the battle.  Begin by doing the most terrifying thing you can imagine.

Begin by destroying the Ring.

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May 28th, 2014Ten Commandments for Writersby Brendan D. King

Excerpted from Sol Stein's "Stein on Writing," pages 302-303.

1. Thou shalt not sprinkle characters into a preconcieved plot lest thou produce hackwork. In the beginning was the character, then the word, and from the character's words is brought forth action.

2. Thou shalt imbue thy heroes with faults and thy villains with charm, for it is the faults of the hero that bring forth his life, just as the charm of the villain is the honey with which he lures the innocent.

3. Thy characters shall steal, kill, dishonor their parents, lie, and covet; for readers shall yawn when thy characters are meek and peaceable.

4. Thou shalt not saw the air with abstractions, for readers are attracted by particularity.

5. Thou shalt not mutter, whisper, bellow, or scream, for it is the words that must carry their own decibels.

6. Thou shalt infect thy reader with anxiety, stress, and tension; for those conditions he deplores in life he relishes in fiction.

7. Thy language shall be precise, clear, and bear the wings of angels, for anything less is the province of businessmen and not of writers.

8. Thou shalt have no rest on the Sabbath, for thy characters shall live in thy mind now and forever.

9. Thou shalt not forget that dialogue is as a foreign tongue, a semblance of speech and not a record of it, a language in which directness diminishes and obliqueness sings.

10. Above all, thou shalt not vent thy emotions onto the reader, for thy duty is to evoke the reader's emotions, and in that most of all lies the art of the writer.

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May 27th, 2014The World’s Greatest Scandalby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org


 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. (Luke 7:23) KJV
And blessed is he whosoever shall not be scandalized in me. (Luke 7:23) Douay-Rheims

This is one of the most amazing things Jesus ever said.  Only a sinless man could say it.

Imagine if I were to say, "Blessed is anyone who is not scandalized by me."  As if I've never done anything that would cause scandal!  I've done some really shameful things - even since last Thursday.

Hookers? cocaine? multi-level marketing? Tell us!  Tell us!

No, I won't tell you, for fear my status as EWTN Rock Star would crumble. But seriously, my bad behavior - the bad behavior of any Christian - could easily lead others away from the Faith.  I could be a witness of doubt and not of the gospel.  We all could.  Martyrs not to Christ but to Antichrist.

And I know a few saints.  I really do.  I know some people who are filled with sanctity and who are living their lives in imitation of Christ.

And not a one of them could say, "Blessed is the man who does not find scandal in what I do!"  They all have sins and imperfections that could easily cause a brother to stumble, especially if their sins were not seen in the broader context of their persistent attempts to repent and serve the Lord.

St. Paul was so careful not to cause scandal that he advised giving up even good things, if partaking of such good things could offend someone weak in faith.  For example, what should a Christian do if a fellow Christian new in the faith who happens to be a vegetarian, is scandalized and offended by seeing someone he hoped was holy eating a Big Mac.  This sounds silly, and we'd be tempted to say, "Get over it.  This ain't no sin," as we eagerly chowed down. But Paul says ...

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Cor. 8:13

Even giving the appearance of scandal is a serious thing - even if no real sin is involved.

And so, fellow sinner, the next time someone avoids you because you stand as a source of offense or embarrassment for them - even if this person is avoiding you because your good behavior causes scandal (Christ and even good Christians remain a stumbling block for many) -  rejoice and be glad.  Remember that you are not worthy of admiration.  If you're anything like I am, you're worthy of contempt.

But we can overcome our scandals by uniting them to the Cross - the Greatest Scandal the World has Ever Known, the source of the embarrassment, offense and consternation of many.

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May 26th, 2014The Pornography of Sentimentby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The burning of the Theater Royal, Exeter, September 3, 1887.

The older I get the less I trust sentiment, the less I think sympathy is genuine.

We love having our feelings stirred up.  Much of religion is like this.  For many, religion is like a romance novel or like a Hallmark movie without the horses.  Prayer is only valid if you "feel" it; worship only worthy if it "moves" you.  Of course, there's nothing wrong with feeling or with being moved - but such things are supposed to indicate something deeper: faith, love, loyalty.  And often they don't.  Often we have feelings for feeling's sake.  Sentiment is supposed to be a means to an end, not an end itself.

And this popular habit of indulging in feeling for feeling's sake is a kind of pornography - we want the feeling without the obligation that the feeling implies, without the commitment that the sentiment indicates.  When feeling is divorced from consequence, when sympathy is felt without paying the price that sympathy demands - such is the pornography of sentiment.

Even certain friendships can be like this.  There can be lots of good times, apparent affinities of mind and soul, camaraderie - but then one friend betrays the other or walks away when the chips are down or finds someone more fun to hang out with when you become inconvenient.  Nobody likes Job when the sores break out, or Timon of Athens when he loses his fortune, or even Charlie Brown when he loses the big game (which is often).  Most of our acquaintances are fair weather friends, shipmates that abandon ship when the seas get rough.  And only such rough weather shows us who will stay and who will jump.

There is something in the Christian tradition that addresses this.  It's the notion of the purification by fire, of light and heat and suffering revealing the truth about who we are and burning through our false pretenses.

Every man's work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. (1 Cor. 3:13)

And if our works are revealed, our characters are revealed.  Our identities - sometimes our secret identities - shine through.  We are what we do, and that is revealed by fire.

For there is nothing hidden, except that it should be made known; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light. (Mark 4:22

This is true not only of God's mysteries, but of man's.  Every literary comedy is about masking and unmasking, and sometimes the pauper is revealed to be the king in disguise, while sometimes the emperor is revealed to be a naked strutting fool.  Sometimes a best friend is revealed to be a false friend, sometimes a Sam Gamgee is revealed to be a hero.

And in life, as in fiction, it is the adventure that tests us, the trial that tries us, the fire that unmasks us, showing our deeds and our true selves for what they really are.

For when all of time ends and the skies roll up like flimsy backdrops, the hidden love will survive it all.  The two-dimensional scenery and paper mache props of wealth, of showmanship, of falsely plighted trust, of mutual abuse masquerading as affection, of arrangements of convenience, of posturing, of grandstanding, of hypocrisy - all of that will burn to ash as the footlights give way to a stronger and a fiercer light, a light of burning fire, the light of love that overcomes our precious darkness.

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May 25th, 2014Let’s Pretendby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The old man he plays let's pretend

When e'er his friends come by

And all his friends, not to offend

Pretend, affirm, and cry,

"Oh, yes, old man, oh what a friend

Both you and trophy wife are!


"How smart is she!  How capably

She does the things we all do!

She's keen and cute and shape-ily

She has the latest hair-do.

Her IQ must be 101, or maybe-ly

It's more!  She surely will go far."


The wife she laughs and says a word

She loudly mispronounces.

The old man, though it seems absurd

To keep her safe he pounces:

Pretends we all misheard

His 20-year old bird


Both you and me

We all, you see,

Must keep alive his fantasy.




Another type of make-believe

I'm sure you've been a part of

Young Amber gets engaged to Steve,

She says it's love, well sort of.

We hope and pray that Steve will leave.

Engaged they may have got;

Engaging he is not.


But no one dares to say a peep or

Make an accusation.

We all pretend that he's a keeper.

Hail the fabrication!

Pretend that you do not

Begin to smell the rot.


"Your house of cards is at an end

It is a bit uneven,

But let's pretend! Oh what a friend -

A friend you have in Stephen!"


Both you and me

We all, you see,

Must keep alive her fantasy.




There is no abnormality

We won't make a reality,

No thing that is amiss

But we affirm by artifice,

No fallacy or fraud

But we hail it as a god.


Though my life ends up in rubble,

I won't let you burst my bubble.


Every soul with an addiction

Demands we join him in his fiction.


Until time will have its end

We all join in "let's pretend".

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May 24th, 2014Those Other Godsby Dena Hunt

In my little faith-sharing group yesterday, we had a discussion of “other gods” (for want of a better name for it), and I thought some of it worth passing on. First, there was talk of superstition. The Church condemns consulting horoscopes, palm-readers, and all that sort of thing as “sorcery,” and most of us think it’s silly, anyway. Yet we also recognize the reality of demonic possession, even in its varying degrees. It occurred to me afterwards that part of the confusion lies in our being the children of the Enlightenment, which denies the reality of all such notions, not selectively, but categorically.  We are so well-schooled in rationalism that our dismissal of these ideas is now an unconscious intellectual reflex. Horoscopes, we say, are nonsense; ditto, palm-readers and fortune-tellers. We don’t take them seriously, and we think that’s because we are Christians, but it isn’t—it’s because we are enlightened rationalists. Two conclusions came out of this discussion:

First, a couple of people in our group have friends or family members who are into certain “healing” beliefs and practices—something from Japan, for example, that involves a group of believers/practitioners waving their hands over someone who’s ill and “healing” them—then meditative yoga, transcendental meditation, etc. These are all “spiritual” movements. Can one be a faithful Christian and participate in these practices? Some people who do participate claim to be Christians. And it’s undeniable that many of these practices have brought peace to troubled bodies and minds—but eventually, either the practice or the Christian faith lapses. Why?

The advantage, as well as the attraction, of Buddhist or non-Christian meditations and other mental practices is that they enable detachment. This detachment can be very beneficial for those under chronic stress, for those who are enthralled by subjective reaction to a reality of fear, anguish, destructive habits, or just everyday existential angst. The great benefit is simply detachment of the self from habitual subjective reaction. If it could be understood simply as a practice that strengthens weak egos and encourages self-control, it could be a good thing. The trouble is that it’s not understood that way—because it’s not presented that way. It’s presented as a “belief,” even as a faith, as “spiritual.” And the moment we start talking about a mental health exercise as “spiritual,” we’re declaring that we’re engaging with spirits. (Sometimes we really need to look at the words we use, at what we are actually saying.)

In TM instruction, receiving our “secret” word (not very secret, since everyone is taught the same word, “ohm”), we are instructed to believe it’s our personal, private password. The concept of “secret” implies protectedness, placing ourselves under the protection (of what? it’s worth asking), a haven or refuge from a threatening environment or situation or person(s). It equates peace, safety. Into the mysticism of it all, we don’t see that for what it is: withdrawal, retreat to objectivity, to detachment, which can protect the ego and allow us judgment and self-control, at least to some extent. Unless one withdraws completely, beyond the ego (it has happened! Eventually, such persons are diagnosed as schizophrenic), it can be a healthy exercise. Our Lord taught us to be detached from the world. We are meant to be free from our own vulnerability to powers that would harm us, emotionally, physically, and especially, spiritually.

One of our group mentioned that all the “healing” spiritual movements are results-based, and that is what provided an insight into their basic incompatibility with Christianity. Such movements are in direct conflict with Christianity. How and why:

Because our faith is centered not on our gaining “results,” which is another word for “power.”  We do not seek power in our prayer; we surrender it. We do not seek our will, but his. We pray “Thy will be done.” Our God is our God, we are not our god, seeking our own will. We petition, yes, but always in deference to the sovereignty of God’s will, not our own. We are not sovereign, we belong to him. We are not free to give allegiance to anyone or anything, either physical or metaphysical.

Rationalism aside, some of these practices do “work.” They work because our Lord himself told us that spirits do exist. He performed exorcisms on both bodies and minds. And he taught us that unless he occupies the house, seven other spirits worse than the one he expelled would come and occupy it. Therein lies a danger far worse than any illness. Indulging in spiritual practices of any kind outside our faith is like taking cyanide to cure a headache.

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May 21st, 2014In California, Smug is Worse than Smogby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Here'a s provocative article at the Imaginative Conservative about Steve Jobs.  It's not so much about Jobs or Apple as it is about the Smug (which is similar to the Smog) that has been choking us for a few generations.  For instance ...
... California ... it was a place people moved to get more money and better weather, and where being the first one on the block to recycle, or get a fancy car, was more important than staying married and taking care of your kids, let alone showing common decency.


Jobs was, frankly, spoiled rotten. The family even let him “drop out” of church after their Lutheran pastor didn’t have a satisfactory answer when he asked the usual “if there is a God, how could He let x horrible thing happen”, [a] question kids who think they are bright often ask. This wasn’t a good time for religion, of course. Too many religious leaders were unwilling or unable to respond to newly questioning parishioners, or were themselves ideological nutcases. And too many parents were mostly going through the motions. Even many of those who still went to church would have been happy with a drive through mass. Small wonder so many of their children stopped bothering altogether.

And having just seen my son graduate from college - where the student speaker assured us all that the only things that distinguished us from apes were our jaws and our bipedialism (of course, apes don't use the word "bipedalism".  They say, "standing on two feet".) - still the article shows that things could be much worse, though this is common enough ...

I taught for a year at the college he [Jobs] attended for a year. Red sorry, Reed College in Portland, Oregon is one of those places where students dress in black to show how depressing it is to be young and well-off; lots of Volvos in the parking lot when I was there. And the drug culture remained. By my second semester at Reed several students had overdosed on illegal drugs. When the President, a “good” leftie from Oberlin, decided to take the minimal action of proposing a faculty resolution decrying the self-destructive behavior, he was in for a surprise. At first I thought the principal opposition speaker was a bag lady. It turned out she was just some English professor in a poncho. She was nearly in tears as she argued that “we” could not hope to engage productively with students if we began with such a “superior attitude.” The resolution failed by an overwhelming margin.

And not only the article is worth reading in full, so is at least one of the comments ...

Peter Strzelecki Rieth


Well, I never knew anything about him [Jobs] personally, but I always stayed away from his products because they seemed unnecessarily expensive. When I finally got around to going to an i-store and speaking to an i-genius about his i-pad, I was shocked at how totally useless it was, how little could be done on it, and how ludicrously expensive it was, both in terms of the product and exploitation. That same day, I went to another store and asked a regular person (not an i-genius) about Samsung’s tablets and android. It turned out Samsung’s products can do everything my laptop could do, and I have since stopped using laptops for anything.
Meanwhile, someone (an apple user) asked me recently “do you know what jailbreaking is and how to reactivate your i-phone after you try it?” He then told me the horror story of trying to get apps outside of the Applopoly, apps which I get for free through google play, and how the i-phone actually breaks down when its users try to “jailbreak” – to get out of the jail Mr. Jobs built for them and lured them into. It’s actually somewhat pathetic. “Just buy a NoteII” I tell people.
So, in a sense, this article does not surprise me. You can see his character in his products: something simple, unimaginative and retrogressive, aggressively marketed as the height of sophistication.

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May 19th, 2014Truth, Beauty, and Comic Booksby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

I've been on a writing binge (well, my kind of binge). My newest piece over at Ignatius Press Novels is about the three greatest things that have shaped my life: comics, GK Chesterton, and a wise teacher.

Similar to G.K. Chesterton’s fine defense of fairy tales, it is not hard to find a defense of the classic comics that first spark many a child’s imagination and teach him virtues such as kindness, fortitude, and strength in adversity. Comics, like the older brother fairy tales, contain, as Chesterton quipped, more truth than many modern novels. “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey,” Chesterton remarked, “What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.” In the same way that a child doesn’t need to be told about suffering and adversity, they know it far too well, but they are often introduced to how to overcome it and turn it into something beautiful on the colourful pages awaiting them at a comic shop.

Read the rest at Ignatius Press Novels... 


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May 19th, 2014In Vino Veritas: Chesterton Proposes a Toastby Joseph Pearce

Here's my latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative:


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May 19th, 2014Black Dog Days: How to Deal with Depressionby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

My latest piece is over at The Catholic Gentleman, wherein I offer some practical advice on how to struggle with a particular issue I have and that I note is widespread. While my condition is as much chemical as it is psychological, I hope I can give a hand to my brothers in Christ and help raise awareness. Find it here: http://www.catholicgentleman.net/2014/05/black-dog-days-how-to-deal-with-depression/

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May 17th, 2014Stratford Caldecottby Robert Asch

One of our own is dying. Stratford Caldecott - and his wife Leonie - have been with us since the beginning: since our first editorial meeting; since the idea of StAR was taking definitive shape as a nascent journal; and as friends of ours before StAR was anything at all. 

Strat is a man of rare kindness, much wisdom, and unusual knowledge; he is also perhaps the fairest-minded intellectual I have ever known, in or out of the Church; and his untimely departure is to me like the prospect of Elrond disappearing from Middle Earth. 

One of several things we have in common is an enjoyment of classic comics, and the last time we met the conversation took a long and delightful detour through Kirby and Ditko country. He wrote us a piece on the virtues of comic books for our Popular Culture issue back in 2007, and here is a recent one for the Imaginative Conservative:


His daughter Sophie organised an online Marvel Comics-related campaign to promote prostate cancer awareness and simultaneously cheer her dad up. It has gone viral, and you can follow the story here:


and, more fully, here:


In addition to co-founding and editing a superlative journal of faith and culture - Second Spring (http://www.secondspring.co.uk/) - Stratford has written singularly beautiful books whose beauty is multiplex: the subjects, the author's thought, his prose. I urge you to discover them while he is still with us:

On Tolkien:

The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision behind the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit (identified by Peter Kreeft as the most essential book on Tolkien):



On Mystical Theology:

All Things Made New: The Mysteries of the World in Christ:



The Seven Sacraments:



On Catholic Cosmology:

The Radiance of Being:



On Education:

Beauty in the World: Rethinking the Foundations of Education:



Beauty for Truth's Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education:



Catholic Social Teaching:

Not As the World Gives: The Way of Creative Justice:


It is one of the many regrets I have of living abroad that I have seen so little of Stratford and his family over the last ten years; and now that he is about to leave, there are so many things I should like to ask him, so much good talk left unspoken. Au revoir, my friend! Till we meet again. 

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May 17th, 2014Interview in Spainby Joseph Pearce

Last week I was in Barcelona and Madrid promoting the Spanish edition of my book, Race with the Devil. I gave several press interviews, the link to one of which I'm posting here. The journalist who interviewed me informed me that the published interview received 4,000 visits within the first 24 hours of publication. Here's the link:  http://www.religionenlibertad.com/articulo.asp?idarticulo=35576

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May 16th, 2014Over at Catholic Laneby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

I'm over at Catholic Lane today to give a brief reflection on the Pope's latest audience. This week, we are discussing fortitude, a necessary but misunderstood virtue.

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.” –GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Continuing his Catechesis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis used this week’s lesson to discuss the gift of fortitude. When we consider the Gifts of the Spirit, fortitude is rarely one that any of us would call to mind. It is an interior virtue that is only manifest during times of trial...

Read the rest at Catholic Lane.

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May 15th, 2014Common Sense on the Ukraine Crisisby Joseph Pearce

There has been so much nonsense written and said about the crisis in the Ukraine that it is both rare and refreshing to read a balanced analysis of the problem. Here is such an analysis, recently published in the National Catholic Register:


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May 14th, 2014Treason’s Winby Dena Hunt

A friend sent me an email last Friday telling me about Treason’s win of the gold medal in religious fiction in the Independent Publishers Annual Book Awards (mentioned in Michael Lichens’ post yesterday). Within seconds, I emailed three people: the publisher, Sophia Institute Press, who took a chance in publishing this novel—it’s not their sort of thing; Joseph Pearce, who is very probably the busiest person I’ve ever met, but who took the time to support me in my efforts to get the novel published and even volunteered to write the introduction; and Ellen Hrkach, an amazing woman, writer, editor, publisher, president of the Catholic Writers Guild, wife and mother, and heaven-knows-what-else, who read the book, loved it, contacted the publisher and set about doing all she could to promote a book she had nothing to do with. One of the things she managed was to get it entered as one of the 5,500 entries in the competition. Let me put this differently: They had no stake in Treason’s success or failure. Why did they do it?

The answer to that question is also the answer to why the Catholic literary revival is happening. It has nothing to do with writers. I had nothing to do with Treason’s win—I didn’t even have anything to do with its publication, a subject about which I know less than nothing, and I couldn’t market my way out of a paper bag, even if my life depended on it. So, while the literary blogs talk about a revival of Catholic literature in terms of writers or their works, here are three examples of those who will actually accomplish that long hoped-for event. And here are a few others; Dappled Things, a Catholic literary print magazine; new risk-taking Catholic publishers Tuscany Press and Wise Blood; Pilgrim Journal, an excellent online Catholic quarterly. And there are many others. The freight may be the writer’s work, but these are the engines that actually move that train.

Treason is available everywhere online, including Canada and the UK, I think. Also, reviews abound everywhere—one has only to google—but the two that are the most unbiased, comprehensive, and authoritative are Father Peter Milward’s in StAR and Michael Morow’s in The Wanderer.

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May 14th, 2014Tolkien’s Catholicism: An Interviewby Joseph Pearce

Here's my latest for the Imaginative Conservative:


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May 13th, 2014Chesterton in the Pewsby Daniel J. Heisey

Somehow the luncheon conversation turned to hymns.  The diners were two cradle Catholics and two Protestant converts to Catholicism, and they agreed that what one of them called “The Yoo-hoo Song,” meaning “Eagle’s Wings,” didn’t quite get their blood stirring.  One of them, a former Presbyterian, remarked how odd it was that the 1955 Presbyterian hymnal he had used every week had a hymn by G. K. Chesterton, but while that hymn had featured in Presbyterian worship, he had never encountered it in Catholic liturgy.  The other three said almost at the same time that they never knew Chesterton had written hymns.

So, it might be time to reconsider Chesterton’s hymn, “O God of Earth and Altar.”  In addition to its inclusion in the old Presbyterian Hymnbook, it is in The English Hymnal, as well as in collections of Chesterton’s poetry, where it appears simply as “A Hymn.”  A piece of lyric verse in three stanzas, it dates to 1906 and can be sung to the tunes Llangloffan and King’s Lynn.

“O God of Earth and Altar,” it begins, “bow down and hear our cry/Our earthly rulers falter/Our people drift and die.”  What has caused this sorry state?  “The walls of gold entomb us/The words of scorn divide.”  Then comes a prayer:  “Take not thy thunder from us/But take away our pride.”

The prayer further implores the Lord:  “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!”

There follows an additional request:  “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.”

These are stirring words, and the music makes them more so.  Chesterton’s hymn balances a sense of repentance with a desire to serve the Lord.  By calling on God to purify and perfect them, the congregation singing the hymn also invoke divine grace.  Human pride and idolatry keep us from being able to save ourselves.

When Chesterton composed that poem, he was an Anglican, and he was writing within a tradition of hymns that included such rousing lyrics as “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “The Son of God Goes Forth to War.”  The former is often mocked if not deplored; the latter seems all but forgotten.  When the Christian soldiers, “marching as to war,” follow the Cross, they also follow “Christ the royal Master” who “leads against the foe.”  The foe, of course, is Satan, luring us with sin.

While for some those words are as stirring as Chesterton’s, perhaps such sentiments are out of fashion today.  Imagery of war, even if referring to fighting against the Enemy, Satan, and the sins coming from our own fallen nature, might seem gauche.  At the same time, even mentioning that there just might be a satanic enemy of souls could mark one as embarrassingly uncouth.

In an essay called “The Tower,” collected in 1909 in Tremendous Trifles, Chesterton addressed that point of view.  “I remember a debate,” he wrote, “in which I had praised militant music in ritual, and some one asked me if I could imagine Christ walking down the street before a brass band.”  Chesterton replied that he could “imagine it with the greatest ease,” because “Christ definitely approved a natural noisiness at a great moment.”

That great moment was when the disciples tried to get some rowdy children to be quiet and Jesus told the disciples, “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40).  From that statement Chesterton concluded that “With these words He called up all the wealth of artistic creation that has been founded on this creed.”

One example of that artistic element in Christianity, Chesterton argued here and also in Orthodoxy (1908), occurred in the unexpected phenomenon of Gothic architecture.  In the carved angels and saints, grotesques and gargoyles of that art form, the very stones do seem to be crying out and bearing witness to the glory of God.

After the First World War, Chesterton’s village of Beaconsfield proposed to set up a war memorial.  After much debate at a town meeting, the plan settled upon was for a cross in the town square, and things seemed to be in order until some residents realized that not only was the memorial to be a cross, it was to be a crucifix.  Chesterton defended the proposed crucifix for the crossroads around which the sleepy little community had developed.  “I do not want the crucifix to be a compromise,” he wrote in his autobiography, “or a concession to the weaker brethren. . . . I want it to be a blazon and a boast.”

Be that as it may, why should anyone want hymns that stir the blood?  Simply because the Christian faith is about human flesh and blood as well as about a divine spirit.  The music and poetry used during Mass must complement the message proclaimed in the Law and the Prophets, the Epistles and the Gospel.  Namely, the score of the hymns must underscore the prose of the Scriptures, so that the word coming from both sources becomes as challenging as the image of the crucifix, the challenge of doing penance and believing the good news.

At the end of Mass the priest or deacon tells all who are there assembled to go forth.  Although the world into which Christians are to take the Gospel, maybe even using words, might prefer being affirmed by sentimental songs, the hymns filling the hearts of even four middle-aged men at luncheon should be piercing swords of contradiction, rousing and fortifying them to go forth to spiritual warfare, against which, we have it on good authority, the gates of Hell shall not prevail.


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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May 13th, 2014“The Lord of the Rings” meets “Star Trek”by Brendan D. King

It has been said that the greatest test an author's popularity is how often their work has been spoofed. This is especially true of Gene Rodenberry's "Star Trek" and J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth Legendarium. 

Some time ago, I created the following parody of both "Star Trek" and "The Lord of the Rings." I hope that those who read it have as much fun as I did creating it.

"The Lord of the Rings IV: The Wrath of Saruman."
A Film by Gene Rodenberry.
Based upon a Screenplay by Brendan D. King.

A frozen arctic coast stirred by hurricane-force winds. Inside an igloo, Aragorn and Faramir are being held by fourteen large Orcs in parkas. They all seem to be waiting. Into the entrance steps a tall figure flanked by four more Orcs. His parka hood is thrown back.

Aragorn: (Aloud, despite himself). "Saruman!"

Saruman is stunned by the recognition and comes over to examine Aragorn and Faramir.

Saruman: (Finally) "You I don't know. But YOU. I never forget a face. Strider, isn't it?" (Wonderingly) "I never expected to see your face again."

Faramir: "Your Majesty, who is this man?"

Aragorn: "An Istari traitor of the Third Age. I demand..."

Saruman: "You are in a position to demand nothing. I, on the other hand, am in a position to grant nothing. What you see here is all that remains of the armies of Orthanc, exiled here five years ago by Gandalf the White."

Faramir: "Listen to me, you Orcs..."

Saruman: "Save your strength. The Uruk-Hai were bred to live and die at my command before you ever ascended to the Stewardship of Gondor. Do you mean your King never told you the tale? Never told you how Gadalf left us here with only the contents of these igloos to sustain us?"

Aragorn: "You lie! In Forochal there was a mild climate, a fair chance to..."

Saruman: "THIS is Forochal!! The glaciers of Forodwaith migrated southward six months after we were left here. The White Rider never bothered to check on our progress. It was only my superior intellect that enabled us to survive! In Orthanc, five years ago, I was a Prince, with armies of millions. Now, like Prometheus, I have been left by Gandalf to digest my own entrails!"

Aragorn: "Gandalf revered you as a father! You repaid him by betraying everything the Istari ever stood for!"

Saruman gives Aragorn a brual slap in the face.

Saruman: "I'll wager your King never told you about the heroic Councillor Grima of Rohan, who gave up everything to join me in exile. And see how Gandalf repaid his loyalty. He's as dead as the glaciers!!"

Saruman's eyes fill with tears.

Saruman: "A plague upon you all."

He swiftly regains his composure.

Saruman: "You didn't expect to find me, did you? You thought this was Forodwaith. Why are you here?"

 No response. Saruman grabs Aragorn by the throat with one hand and lifts him into the air. A terrified Aragorn struggles for breath but remains silent. Saruman lets go and lets him fall with a thud.

Saruman: "No matter. You will soon tell me willingly enough."

He goes over to a tank and pulls out two wriggling eels.

Saruman: "Meet Forochal's sole remaining indigenous life form. Along with the cold, they've killed thousand's of my followers, including my beloved Grima. Their young enter through the ears and wrap themselves around the cerebral cortex, making the victim quite vulnerable to suggestion. Later, as they grow up, there follows madness, paralysis, and death. These are my pets, of course, and not quite domesticated."

Saruman: "Saruman, listen to me. Gandalf was only doing his duty..."

Aragorn and Faramir scream in agony as Saruman drops the eels into their ears. Then, their faces transform into blank indifference.

Saruman: "Now, you will tell me why you are here and where I can find Gandalf the White."

Uruk-Hai Orc: "And when we find him?"

Saruman: (Seething with Hatred). "Have you ever heard the Rohirrim's proverb that revenge is a dish best served cold? Well, it is very cold in Middle Earth."

Uruk-Hai Orc: "My Lord, if I may, you have already beaten Gandalf the White. We have the supplies, sleds, and dog teams brought here by these Men of Gondor. There is nothing to stop us from leaving and resettling wherever we wish."

Saruman coldly shakes his head.

Saruman: "He tasks me, he tasks me, and I shall have him! I'll chase him round the snows of Forodwaith and round the ash of Mordor and round Perdition's flames before I give him up!"

Uruk-Hai Orc: (Sadly) "As you wish, My Lord."

Uruk-Hai Orcs kneel in submission before a beaming Saruman.

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May 10th, 2014The Futility of Evil: the Knot of the Naughtyby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The other day I posted a thread from Facebook that led me to the brink of despair.

Here's one that proves that Facebook can be a source of light as well as darkness.  A friend of mine, Paul from Pluto (Pluto, Mississippi), writes the post, and Cory Dupont and I share some thoughts as comments ...

THE POST: ... if hell is eternal punishment for evil, and evil is according to classical metaphysics non-being, then how can hell be any kind of entity at all?
Like ·  · 
  • Cory Dupont likes this.
  • Cory Dupont Why not expand your scope?
    3 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien In C. S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce", hell is impossible to see from heaven because it's so small. "The difficulty of hell," explains Macdonald, "Is that it's almost nearly nothing."
    3 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien There are lots of souls there, but it's hard to pinpoint from heaven.
    3 hrs · Like
  • Cory Dupont There is a long tradition in Eastern Christian thought that says "hell is heaven experienced differently" by those who have, of their own free-will, rejected the love and mercy of God. In contrast to, say, Lewis and others like him who are clearly working from a Western Medieval point of observation, the Eastern Church has never really felt comfortable or pressed to locate and/or define Hell. Instead, the Church does feel it necessary to show us how to avoid such a destiny, and this lays greater emphasis upon Hell as a state-of-being-towards-God, rather than a peripheral blot on a celestial map. Then again, there may be good cause to question this position, as many of the Latin and Greek Fathers feel quite comfortable defining Hell as a condition of punishment and divine retribution. I'm thinking primarily of exegetes such as St. Chrysostom. In a dogmatic sense, however, it's tough to find a single Church Father, with the exceptions of Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Augustine, who spent any considerable thought on the matter.
    2 hrs · Like
  • Cory Dupont Any observation made on the matter of eschatology was never done so outside of the early Church's continuous battles over Christology. I only say this because later reflection upon Hell, such as that of the Medieval Schoolmen, was frequently far too abstract and at times somewhat irrelevant in relation to the mysterium fidei.
    2 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien Actually, Cory Dupont, Lewis does not locate or define hell in "The Great Divorce". The narrator tries to, but is frustrated in his attempts. Even in Marlowe's "Dr. Faustus", written in Elizabethan England, the demon Mephistopheles says, "Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib'd
    In one self-place; but where we are is hell,
    And where hell is, there must we ever be:
    And, to be short, when all the world dissolves,
    And every creature shall be purified,
    All places shall be hell that are not heaven."
    So I don't think you're quite right that Western Christianity has tended to localize hell.

    My question for Paul - is there a state of absolute zero, and if so, can you go there without a jacket?
    2 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien Compare Our Lord's statement in Luke where He says you cannot say of the Kingdom, "Here it is" or "there it is".
    2 hrs · Like
  • Cory Dupont Fair enough, but I wouldn't so hastily make Lewis the arbiter of the entire Western Christian tradition.
    2 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien No, but neither is Marlowe - and yet he too refuses to have his demon character localize hell. In fact, he shows Faustus as being foolish and materialistic for trying to do so.
    2 hrs · Like
  • Cory Dupont Forgive me, but I haven't read Marlowe since college. : (
    2 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien As to the reality of hell if evil is the privation of good (Paul's original point), one of the odd aspects of Divine Mercy is the (you might say) sly power of it, the hidden reality of it as compared with what seems to be the pervasive presence of evil. We carry hell in our hearts, but it remains a kind of nothing.

... and Divine Mercy, though often hidden, is the Reality that overcomes that Nothing.  That last comment of mine is something I want to expand upon.


When we sin, we seek some sort of evil.  Evil, properly speaking, is the absence of good.  It is a kind of "nothing".  It is "naught" - which is what it means to be "naughty" in a sense.

But no matter how "naughty" we are, no matter how much we pride ourselves on what we've built - our corrupt and teetering Earthly City, which stands against the solid and eternal City of God - it all comes to naught.  As Shakespeare wrote ...

The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this and come to dust.

And St. Paul points to this great mystery - the mystery of the Futility of Evil when he quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying ...

For it is written, "As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." (Rom. 14:11)

In other words, at the End of Time, God will proclaim in our hearts what J.R.R. Tolkien echoes when he says ...

... no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined. 

Even our sins, then, and their futile consequences, ultimately stand as a witness and a tribute to the Reality that God has made, to the Reality that God is.  In spite of ourselves, we sinners show that we can only deny God and His plan by turning toward nothing, toward evil, toward the Unreal.  All sinners will therefore sooner or later bend the knee and confess to God in spite of ourselves, for that's the way the cosmos is structured.

And we will do this not only then, at the Coming of Christ, but occasionally we do it even now, typically in moments of silence, of despair or anguish, of great regret - moments when the silly game we play is revealed to be the utter waste that it is.  To quote the atheist John Lennon (who often got it right) ...

All my little patterns and schemes
Lost like some forgotten dreams
Seems that all I really was doing
Was waiting for you

Just like little girls and boys
Playing with their little toys
Seems like all they really were doing
Was waiting for love

We flatter ourselves with our worldly accomplishments and pursuits.  We flatter ourselves with our sins.  But we are only "little girls and boys" being naughty.  And even when our naughtiness comes to naught, we find ourselves bending the knee and confessing to God, by the very futility of our attempts to turn away from Him.

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May 8th, 2014StAR Features Another Award Winnerby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

We at Saint Austin Review are very proud to announce that our own Dena Hunt's Treason is the recepient of the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold Medal in Religious Fiction. Out of roughly 4000 enteries in 78 categories, Dena's excellent novel was chosen as the best representation in religious fiction. You can view all the winners on the IPPY's press release here

As well, if you haven't read Treason yet, you can order the now award-winning novel on Sophia Institute's site

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May 7th, 2014The Wandering Joeby Joseph Pearce

With so little time at home, I've also had very little time to post anything to the Ink Desk. I thought, therefore, that a brief explanation of my absence from both home and the website might be in order.

Last week I was in New England, first at Thomas More College in New Hampshire and then at a Catholic parish in Stowe, Vermont.

At Thomas More College, I taught Wilde's Dorian Gray as part of my British Romanticism course and also was one of the faculty examiners at several Junior Project Defences, which included topics such as Hopkins' poetry, Joyce's Portrait of the Artist, Lewis's critique of scientism, and Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede. What a joy to be part of such a vibrant life of the mind! And what a joy to be able to teach such intelligent and enthusiastic young Catholics!

Having finished my week of teaching at TMC, I drove north into the mountains of Vermont to speak at Blessed Sacrament parish, the pastor of which is none other than Fr. Benedict Kiely, a fellow Englishmen-in-exile, who will be know to readers of StAR as one of our regular columnists.  

Returning home on Sunday, I managed to grab a blissful day off yesterday, during which I took my six-year-old daughter up to the mountains. We paddled in a pool at the foot of a waterfall, hiked to another waterfall, and ate ice cream.

Tomorrow I leave for Spain, giving talks to promote the Spanish edition of my book Race with the Devil and also lecturing on Shakespeare and Thomas More at universities in Barcelona and Madrid. In between the lectures, I'll be attending the wedding of my good friend, Richard Aleman of the Chesterton Society and the Society for Distributism to his fiancée, Jessica, at a villa somewhere in the wilds of Catalonia. 

Life is exhausting and exhilarating and hopefully exonerates me for my occasional leaves of absence from the Ink Desk. 

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May 7th, 2014A Meeting with Father Jakiby Joseph Pearce

By Peter Milward SJ

SJ House, Tokyo, May 7 2014

Like Joseph Pearce (as mentioned in his introduction to the new issue of StAR), I, too, only met the great philosopher-scientist Father Jaki once.  I had already been introduced to him, if only by name, by my scientist friend Dr Peter Hodgson of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.  It was he who linked for me the names of Stanley Jaki and Pierre Duhem, as upholders of the medieval origins of modern science in the persons of Buridan and Oresme.  Yet already the name of Pierre Duhem I had come across in the writings of Christopher Dawson, especially his Progress and Religion.  I also helped to introduce the writings of Peter Hodgson to the academic world of Japan in the form of two booklets of his, one on “Science and Christianity” (with an emphasis on the work of Buridan) and the other on “Nuclear Energy”.

As for my meeting with the great man himself, it must have taken place when I was enjoying a year’s sabbatical in 1988, partly at the Jesuit Loyola College of Maryland at Baltimore, when on my way by Amtrak to New York I stopped over at Princeton.  There I was met by Father Jaki and driven round Princeton University in the pouring rain.  He seemed to be under the impression that I was interested in Princeton, whereas I was only interested in him and his various ideas, especially in those related to Shakespeare and Catholicism.  Maybe it was this connection, owing to his subsequent republication of JH de Groot’s The Shakespeares and the Old Faith (1946)that prompted me to seek his acquaintance, though when we met he expressed his primary admiration for Mutschmann and Wentersdorf’sShakespeare and Catholicism (1952), which had in fact been my own introduction to the subject from the time of my arrival in Japan in 1954.

On receiving this latest issue of StAR devoted to “The Legacy of Fr Stanley Jaki”, I typically (in Japanese fashion) began at the end and worked my way through article after article with varying interest, while keeping my eye open for any mention of his interest in Shakespeare – only to be disappointed till I came to the Editorial.  There I was impressed by three statements, the first with which I have begun these comments, the second which I have just mentioned with reference to Shakespeare, and a third referring to his reputation “for being somewhat abrasive and for not suffering fools gladly”.  Not that I personally found him either abrasive or impatient with myself, but I couldn’t help contrasting him with Jesus, who was continually subject to the folly of his disciples, not least Simon Peter.  Nor could I resist the temptation to make a pun on his name of Jaki, since in Japanese that name evokes the similar word jakuten with the meaning of defect.  That was, I am sorry to say, his chief defect!

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May 5th, 2014Friends of Christby Pavel Chichikov

Last month the Chinese authorities tore down Sanjiang church in the city of Wenzhou, a city known as the Jerusalem of the East.


There are also recent incidents reported in which the government destroyed objects of Catholic devotion while Catholics stood by weeping.


Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic, is flourishing in China, where on any given Sunday there are probably more Christians worshiping there than in Europe. Government authorities have explained that they feel that Christianity is growing too rapidly.


The faithful must feel wounded by the assaults on the Faith by a secular government. But in these emotions they share to some extent in the wounds of Christ, who suffered the contempt and violence of a ruling body which seemed uncertain of its authority.  Their suffering is a sign of the power and vitality of Christianity, which is often a cause of anxiety to secular power.


I wrote this tribute to our brothers and sisters in Christ in China:




When churches are pulled down

The stone rolls from the tomb,

As the pillars crumble

Christ appears again


            The dead rise up, the living

Give witness to His splendor

Eternal and abiding,

Death destroyed forever


On glory He is seated

We know He is arisen,

Although we are offended

Although we are in prison


Friends of Christ in China

Our Savior conquers all,

The Victim and the Victor

Although the columns fall




The house of earth dissolving

The house of faith endures,

Eternal and triumphant

His victory assured


As He rose in glory

We are in Him restored,

Unconquered and unbeaten,


He is the risen Lord

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May 2nd, 2014Ten Years of The History Boysby Daniel J. Heisey

In May, 2004, Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys premiered in London.  Since then it has enjoyed a world tour of the original cast, an adaptation for BBC Radio, and a film version.  Available on CD and DVD, The History Boys has also been revived twice in London and been performed by local theatres elsewhere.

On one level it is a fun show, full of witty turns of phrase and toe-tapping tunes from the Big Band era.  In a Berlitz sort of surprise, one scene is almost entirely in French.  On another level, the play is deeply disturbing.

Although he made his name as a satirist, the playwright is a serious student of history.  In the late 1950s Alan Bennett (b. 1934) taught history at Oxford, where he was a Fellow of Magdalen College.  His love of history has manifested itself in such works as Forty Years On (1968) and The Madness of George III, also called The Madness of King George (1991).  The History Boys offers reflections on the nature of history, whether it is a random roll of the dice or, to paraphrase one of the boys, just one bloody thing after another.

The boys of the title are eight blue-collar high school students in northern England in the 1980s, and they are scrambling to get into Oxford and Cambridge.  The boys are eager and energetic, like puppies in a box.  Bright and sometimes mischievous, theirs is the salty language affected by high school boys and military men, and early on in the play some repartee about foreskin sets the tone for their lack of inhibitions.

On the whole, the boys are thoroughly secular, worshipping the god of Success.  However, one of the boys, Scripps, is a devout Anglican, to the extent that he tells the audience, “I suspect even the vicar thinks I am a freak.”  He is also an aspiring writer, and while he shares his classmates’ ambition to get into Oxbridge, he has moments of introspection and self-doubt.  One of his classmates, a narcissist named Dakin, expresses amazement not only at Scripps having that incomprehensible quirk about praying, but also at Scripps letting his spiritual life restrain his sexual life.

More so than musings on history and education, though, this play is about sex.  Apparently all but two of the characters experience to some degree same-sex attraction, and the main adult character, an English teacher called Hector, encourages not only the boys’ open minds about books and about the past, but also about their libidos.

Moreover, we learn that Hector and the boys play a daily game with his own bisexual frustrations.  A married man, Hector nevertheless is physically attracted to the boys and takes turns groping them.  In classical fashion, such actions occur off-stage.

Hector is meant to be a sympathetic character, and it is clear that the boys love him and are willing to put up with his misbehavior.  As one of the boys, Crowther, observes in a retrospective moment, “He was stained and shabby and did unforgivable things, but he led you to expect the best.”

Other boys also find ways to excuse Hector violating them.  Regarding the fondling, Dakin asks Scripps, “Are we scarred for life, do you think?”  To which Scripps responds, “We must hope so.  Perhaps it will turn me into Proust.”

Lines like that are meant to be funny, but one must consider that if Hector were a Catholic priest, the show would quite rightly get no laughs at all.  For in the end, Hector is a child molester.  Whether the boys are open to or merely tolerate his advances is irrelevant.  Hector has made a career of abusing his students, and so despite the distraction provided by old popular songs and literary quotations and allusions, this play has an unpleasant undercurrent.

From Bennett’s essays collected in the volumes Writing Home (1994) and Untold Stories (2005), one gets a fuller view of how far he prides himself on his broad mind and sense of irony.  A clever and gifted writer, he can turn any situation, such as his struggle with colon cancer, into wry and perceptive prose.  A bizarre event, an old Catholic woman parking her van outside his house and staying there for fifteen years, became one of his plays, The Lady in the Van (1999).  Bennett portrays her as a quaint eccentric good for a laugh, one of the cues for our laughter being her admiration for Enoch Powell.

In Bennett’s world, the worst charge to bring against someone is being a conservative.  The pious, unhygienic old lady who liked the cranky Tory Enoch Powell is held up for our amusement, but Bennett reserves some of his harshest words for Philip Larkin and P. G. Wodehouse.  To Bennett’s way of thinking, they lurk as crypto-Nazis.

In The History Boys a young history teacher, Irwin, comes across as a fundamentally dishonest creep.  Bennett based Irwin on his interpretation of two prominent young British historians, Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts.  Both have made names for themselves in books and television, and both are men of the political right.

While Bennett deems the likes of Larkin and Ferguson to be morally reprehensible, one wonders whether deep down Bennett is worried about his legacy.  Roberts, for example, has written histories and biographies of lasting value, joining the ranks of the masters of the narrative approach to history.  Even though Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster are now period pieces from the 1930s, they continue to make people laugh.

Yet, for Bennett’s works such longevity is still an open question.  Forty years after Forty Years On, the jokes had faded, and soon only specialists in Cold War history will read his plays about the Communist spies Guy Burgess and Sir Anthony Blunt.  Likewise, in another ten years, The History Boys could be recalled simply for what it really is, an old man’s often jolly effort to justify pedophilia.


    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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