January 22nd, 2015C. S. Lewis & the Catholic Churchby Joseph Pearce

A week or so ago I gave an interview to a Spanish magazine on C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church. I'm delighted to see that this has been picked up by the Catholic News Agency, thereby ensuring that the interview has an English-speaking readership also. Here's the link:

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=3085

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January 22nd, 2015C. S. Lewis & the Catholic Churchby Joseph Pearce

A week or so ago I gave an interview to a Spanish magazine on C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church. I'm delighted to see that this has been picked up by the Catholic News Agency, thereby ensuring that the interview has an English-speaking readership also. Here's the link:

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=3085

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January 22nd, 2015Why Should I Learn This?by Joseph Pearce

The Kindle and ePub versions of Why Should I Learn This?, published by Homeschool Connections, to which I contributed a chapter on Shakespeare, are now available. They are uploaded to the Homeschool Connections website and ready for download:  http://homeschoolconnectionsonline.com/free-ebook.

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January 22nd, 2015Tolkien on Mortality, Myth and Moreby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



Here are some clips of an excellent special recently aired by EWTN, in which I portray J. R. R. Tolkien, and in which author Joseph Pearce describes the Catholic elements of The Lord of the Rings.  Everything I say as Tolkien are word-for-word quotations from his writings.  The special also features artwork by Jef Murray.  As you can see, this was a very well produced program, and is well worth the $10 EWTN is selling the DVDs for.

In the first clip, Tolkien explains the relation between Myth and Truth.



In the second clip, Tolkien explains how he himself is a hobbit.



In the third clip, Joseph explains how Tolkien  understood The Lord of the Rings to be, primarily, about "death and immortality".



These clips are all copyright EWTN 2014.  The entire show is an hour long and is available from the EWTN Religious Catalogue.



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January 20th, 2015Solzhenitsyn: Triumph of the Christian Willby Joseph Pearce

I'm honoured to have been quoted today in an excellent article about Solzhenitsyn on the Investor's Business Daily's website:

http://news.investors.com/management-leaders-in-success/012015-735309-alexander-solzhenitsyns-exposed-ussrs-prison-camps.htm?p=full

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January 19th, 2015Catholic Daughters on Catholic Giantsby Joseph Pearce

I was pleased to see a review of my book Catholic Literary Giants in Share, the magazine of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas:

http://www.nxtbook.com/mercury/mercury/CDA_Share_Winter_2014-15/#/38

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January 19th, 2015Eucatastrophe and The Hobbitby Joseph Pearce

Having recently discovered a wonderful and wonder-filled new website, eucastrophe.com, I was especially gratified to discover that one of my own videos promoting the Catholic Course on The Hobbit has been uploaded to the site:

http://www.eucatastrophe.com/?p=1133

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January 19th, 2015The Best of Ratzingerby Joseph Pearce

Continuing my custom of sharing correspondence with my current and former students with visitors to the Ink Desk, here's the reply to a student asking for advice on which three books by Ratzinger (prior to his election as pope) I would recommend for special focus:

In my own studies of Ratzinger, I have found the following to be the most helpful and brilliant:

Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, 1998

“In the Beginning …”: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, 1990

The Ratzinger Report, 1985

The Spirit of the Liturgy, 2000

I would especially recommend The Spirit of the Liturgy for its importance in the restoration of tradition to the Church's worship.

I would also recommend "In the Beginning" as a brilliant exposition of the Book of Genesis and its importance to our understanding of who we are as human beings.

Milestones is Ratzinger's own memoir, containing many profound theological insights, and The Ratzinger Report illustrates Ratzinger's brilliant understanding of the problems besetting the Church at the end of the twentieth century. 

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January 19th, 2015Is Beauty Sacramental?by Joseph Pearce

A former student of mine is currently embarked on a research project on the topic of "sacramental beauty". She sent me some questions related to her topic which are published below, together with my response:  

 

How would you personally define sacramental beauty?

Beauty, as one of the three transcendentals, is a manifestation of the presence of the Trinitarian Godhead. Goodness (virtue) manifests the Trinity; truth (reason) manifests the Trinity; and beauty manifests the trinity. As such, and properly perceived, beauty is always a sign of God's presence that is meant to lift us in prayer and praise. 

 

Do you think a vibrant and colorful sunset, or even just the warm glow of sunset, falls under the category of sacramental beauty? 

Yes. Absolutely. If we fail to see the sign of God's presence in the beauty of any sunset, it is we and not the sunset that is at fault. Humility opens our eyes to beauty; pride blinds us to it.

 

And, lastly, do you think one's ability to notice sacramental beauty is linked with the imagination?

I think our ability to express and communicate the beauty to ourselves and others is connected to the imaginative faculty but the ability to see beauty is much more primal and is connected to virtue (humility) or its absence. The humble soul will always be edified by the presence of beauty, even if he lacks the imaginative gifts to articulate his experience of it; the proud soul will be blind to beauty, regardless of any imaginative gifts that he has been given (and for which he lacks gratitude!).

 

Finally, you might find helpful an article that I wrote recently for the Imaginative Conservative: http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/01/gutter-man-grandeur-god.html

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January 19th, 2015Chesterton and the Power of Paradoxby Joseph Pearce

Why does Christ say that we must be child-like and St. Paul say that we have to cease being childish? Why are Bilbo and Frodo childlike? Why is Dorian Gray childish? And what did Chesterton have to say about the difference between the childlike and the childish? These questions are asked and hopefully answered in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/01/chesterton-power-paradox.html

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January 19th, 2015Understanding Islamic Voluntarismby Bruce Fingerhut

I am fully convinced that Fr. James Schall is the man possessed of the clearest mind in Christendom. Whether he writes on political theory or basketball, he is bound to offer new insights that will provide something new to the reader, whether that person is an expert or a novice. The only other person I’ve ever read who was able to do that was C.S. Lewis.

In the short piece below, Fr. Schall brushes away the mist, the mystery, and the misstatements involving whatever everybody but our President calls Islamic terrorism. It may well be the most important short article you will read this year.

The text of the piece is found at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/lessons_from_paris

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January 17th, 2015Mammon or Mohammed?by Joseph Pearce

An article in the Wall Street Journal offers a doom-laden picture of the demise of Europe in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack: 

http://www.wsj.com/articles/europe-immigration-and-islam-europes-crisis-of-faith-1421450060

Given the choice between secular fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism the only sensible solution is to echo the words of Shakespeare's Mercutio: "a plague on both their houses!" If, however, we wish to be more positive in our response to the World and to Heresy, we should do what Christ commands and evangelize the heathens! Mammon and Mohammed are the problem. Christ and the Church are the solution. 

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January 16th, 2015Vesselsby Dena Hunt

I have always been fascinated by vessels. Containers that enclose…something. Not vases or open things, but vessels. In the fifties, there was a pop song that stayed on the charts forever—what was behind the “Green Door”? If the door were open, there would be no song, no mystery, no magic.

Small boxes, wooden, maybe, like the one on the table next to me now that contains a rosary. Beautiful boxes, painted china, that rest on dressers and contain a lady’s wedding ring. Faberge eggs or “Brown paper packages tied up with string” that may contain—who knows what treasure? And there are few things more thrilling to a child’s eyes than a Christmas tree with piles of beautiful presents underneath, wrapped in colorful paper and tied with beautiful ribbons and bows. We have email nowadays and are deprived of looked-for letters from those we love, arriving in sealed envelopes, perhaps marked “swak.” Letters are a real loss, I believe. And books. Opened, they reveal vast universes of treasure.

Vessels contain treasures, surprises, things that change our lives. They are all pregnancies. Vessels are bearers of joy, messengers. A vessel conscious of itself is a woman, who wakes every day knowing that her life is now not her own, but someone else’s, someone who is yet to come, someone who is new, a blessing from God who will change her forever, making her worthwhile, fruitful and purposeful.

And how must the vessel named Mary have felt? She tries to tell in the beautiful Magnificat.

Our churches contain her replica in the form of the tabernacle, containing our Lord, waiting to be received by us as the supreme joy and treasure that He is. The tabernacle, the new Ark of the Covenant, containing the Word of God. The vessel is the promise. It contains the promise fulfilled.

All of us are vessels, bearing talents, love, deeds, children, gifts to give to each other in the Name of the Holy Sire of all vessels and all that they contain. Each of us then is a de-sire, seeking its own fulfillment, the unique one for which we were made, and living the adventure of discovery, like children who gaze with shining eyes at the presents under the Christmas tree, full of mystery, wonder and magic.

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January 16th, 2015Siegfried Sassoon versus Wilfred Owenby Joseph Pearce

A friend has just sent me a link to one of the finest and darkest war poems ever written, “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen: http://www.englishverse.com/poems/disabled

“I can't get enough of this poem,” my friend writes, “a sense of loss, probably for a lost cause. But bravery anyway. Once cheered on by the crowd but now abandoned  in his misery. Golgotha. Oremus.”

Here is my reply, comparing Owen’s brilliant poem with a poem by Siegfried Sassoon:

Owen’s “Disabled” is also one of my own favourite poems, which I have taught on several occasions. It is brilliant but marred by its nihilism and despair. I always teach it side by side with Siegfried Sassoon’s poem, The One-Legged Man (http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-one-legged-man-2/), which treats the same theme but from a more positive and hopeful perspective (though the sting in the poem’s tale is the tragic irony of the last line).

 

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January 16th, 2015The Gutter of Man and the Grandeur of Godby Joseph Pearce

What’s the connection between gratitude and grandeur, humility and hubris, and the gutter and the stars? Read on and find out:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/01/gutter-man-grandeur-god.html

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January 15th, 2015‘Shouting Through The Water’: A Story of Strength in Weaknessby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

Benjamin Mann, whose poetry will appear in the pages of StAR later this year, gives an introduction about his poetic gift and how his unusual style was developed by his personal and generational experience and struggles. It's well worth reading, as are any of his fine articles at Catholic Exchange. You can read it here.

CONGRATULATIONS

TO A NEW LOST GENERATION,

WELCOME TO A NEW WAR

YOU DON’T RECALL VOLUNTEERING FOR –

BUT NOW IT’S TIME TO GO, GET UP

AND GET YOURSELF TOGETHER

OUT OF FRAGMENTS YOU’VE ASSEMBLED

UNDERNEATH THE SHEET METAL

 

CONSOLATIONS

TO A NEW BEAT-DOWN GENERATION,

REACHING UP TO SCRAWL SOMETHING

ACROSS A PAPER SKY –

AND IT’S POETIC, EVEN IF

THE GRAVITY’S AGAINST IT

GETTING NOTICED IN THIS LIFE

AMID THE DIMMING OF THE LIGHTS

Read more at Catholic Exchange.

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January 14th, 2015Heart Speaks to Heart - with Miraculous Graceby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

From left to right around the table: Dale Ahlquist, Deacon Jack Sullivan, me, my son Colin, my wife Karen, our friend Jane Davies.


I've known Deacon Jack Sullivan for many years.  I got together with him again this past weekend, and he left with me a document that I'll be quoting from.  It's an account of his miraculous healing (I have taken the liberty of emphasizing some of what he says in boldface) ...

This story of mine began on June 6, 2000, when I embarked on a rather incredible and mysterious journey.  You see, I suddenly awoke that morning with excruciating and debilitating pain in my back and both legs.  At a local hospital a CT-scan revealed a serious succession of lumbar disc and vertebrae deformities turning inward and literally squeezing the life out of my spinal cord, causing severe stenosis.  I was in complete agony day and night.  Walking was nearly impossible as I was completely doubled over like a shrimp, only facing the ground.  


Paralysis was a distinct possibility for Jack.  The chief of spinal surgery at a major Boston hospital told him, "Without question, yours is the worst back I've seen in all my years of performing spinal surgery." The doctor scheduled Jack for surgery and told him to scrap his plans to finish his training in the diaconate formation program.  Jack was upset not merely because of his agonizing pain, but because his crippling condition meant he would perhaps never become a deacon in the Catholic Church.

Returning home, I was totally distraught realizing I would have to drop out!  I turned on the TV to get my mind off this calamity.  Switching channels, I accidentally stopped at the EWTN channel.  It was there that I was introduced to Cardinal John Henry Newman.  The program dealt with Cardinal Newman's uniquely difficult life and the crisis he faced in his vocation as an Anglican priest.


The program featured an interview with Fr. Ian Kerr, one of the major biographers of Newman's.  Fr. Kerr explained the great challenges that Newman faced over the course of his life, especially in his conversion to the Catholic Faith.  The program ended with a suggestion that if any viewers were to receive a "divine favor" through Newman's intercession, they should inform the postulator of his cause.  At the time, the Church had been waiting 110 years for a miracle to beatify him.

Jack continues ...

Because of this request, I prayed to him with all my heart, "Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk so I can return to classes and be ordained."  I didn't pray for complete healing for that would be too presumptuous; merely to grant me this small "divine favor" which at that time was so urgent.  Then I went to bed.  To my amazement, I woke up that following morning completely pain free, when for months I was in constant agony.  Remarkably, I could walk normally with complete strength in my back and legs. 


Jack describes how his surgeon was astonished, for the MRI and Myelograms revealed that his spine was just as disfigured as it had been.  There had been no physical change and no reason why Jack was suddenly pain free and able to walk.  But Jack's joy was not confined to his deliverance from pain, as his baffled surgeon made a recommendation ...

He then suggested that I should cancel my surgery and RETURN TO MY CLASSES!


All along, Jack's focus had been on completing his training and becoming a deacon in the Catholic Church.  As the capital letters above indicate, health for him was not an end in itself.  A healthy back and freedom from pain were both good things in and of themselves, but also they were means to an end.  They were gifts from God to be used for the Kingdom.

But as soon as diaconate classes ended, and Jack had miraculously completed the third year of his formation program, the pain returned in full force.  Immediate surgery was required.

My dura mater (protective fibrous lining surrounding the spinal cord housing the spinal fluids) was very badly torn.  It also seemed very unlikely that my badly damaged and compressed spinal cord would decompress to its normal size because nerve tissue normally can't regenerate.  For days thereafter I continued to suffer incredible pain, day and night, with no relief in sight.  Even high dosages of morphine didn't help.  On the fifth day after surgery as I laid motionless in my bed, I was informed by one of the doctors that I "should forget about returning to my classes," scheduled to begin in three weeks, "because it would take many months to recover, if at all!"


And now the miracle continues ...

Upon hearing this tragic assessment, I suddenly felt a strong urge at least to try to get out of bed; to attempt to walk!  Inch by inch I slid to the edge of my bed in horrific pain.  With the nurse's help, I put my feel onto the cold floor, leaning on the bed with my forearms for support.  It was this moment of agony and frustration that led me again to prayer.  The exact same prayer I said the year before and under the same circumstances.  "Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk so that I can return to classes and be ordained." 
Suddenly I felt a tremendous sensation of intense heat and a strong tingling feeling throughout my body.  It seemed to last a very long time.  I also felt an indescribable sense of resplendent joy and peace, the likes of which I had never encountered.  It was as though I was in God's presence and lifted up to heaven!  Then I felt a strong surge of strength and feeling of confidence that I could finally walk!  When I began my prayer I was leaning on my bed in utter agony.  But when this experience subsided, I found myself standing completely upright.  I then shouted to the nurse, "I have no more pain!"  


Jack then began bounding about the hospital room and walking briskly up and down the hall, the nurses worried and concerned, flocking about him and urging him to return to bed.

I was discharged two hours later without any need for pain medication nor rehabilitation!  Within a few days I was walking a mile or two daily.  Oh ... the date of my healing?  This wondrous event occurred on August 15th, the Feast of Our Lady's Assumption, body and soul into heaven.  It was later determined that my recovery and regeneration of the nerve tissue of my spinal cord on that unforgettable day was unexplainably accelerated in one mysterious moment.  And to everyone's astonishment, I returned to classes on time!


To make a long story short, the Vatican assembled a "team of spinal surgeons from all over Europe", who examined "all the films and medical records" and "unanimously voted by secret ballot that there was absolutely no medical or scientific explanation for my recovery."  This became the official miracle that led to Newman's beatification.

Jack Sullivan completed his classes and was ordained a deacon, and served with Pope Benedict XVI at the beatification Mass for John Henry Newman in England in 2010.

Pope Benedict (center), Deacon Jack Sullivan (far right) at the Mass of Beatification.


Jack reflects upon his miraculous healing (the capital letters are his) ...

I believe these remarkable events beautifully describe the concept of our communion with the saints in heaven.  I soon realized that THIS COMMUNION IS SELDOM A ONE-TIME EVENT, BUT USUALLY AN ONGOING PROCESS OF GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT IN REVERENCE AND FRIENDSHIP ALWAYS LEADING TO SOME GREATER GOOD, SOME HIGHER PURPOSE, FAR BEYOND OURSELVES!


And included in that is a share in the sufferings of your saint, which is a share in the sufferings of Christ ...

We must often endure similar sorrows, and afflictions of the saint whose intercessions we seek, before we can possibly share in that saint's victory! 


***

Now, Newman is not easy for many people to approach.  His writing is formal and his thinking quite deep.  He has a great sense of the need for austerity in religion - even severity - and this goes against our modern inclinations.  So at lunch I asked Deacon Jack, "How do you reconcile the friendship you feel with Cardinal Newman with what is sometimes a coldness in his writing and with his imposing intellect?"

"They key is sanctity," Jack responded.  "You've got to understand Newman through his holiness.  That's the key to everything he wrote and to everything he experienced and stood for."

John Henry Newman stood for the true Faith, a Faith we come to ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem, "out of the shadows and images into the truth", out of Unreality into Reality.  Newman always fought against the False Faith, what Deacon Jack Sullivan describes as man's attempt "to re-create for himself a humanly designed Heaven on earth to replace Almighty God's eternal Kingdom."

Finding this True Faith is finding not only "what a friend we have in Jesus" (to quote the old hymn), but finding what friends we have in one another - our friends here on earth and our friends in heaven.  Communion with this Truth is communion with a Person - with the Persons of the Trinity and with other persons on earth and in the Kingdom.  It is friendship.  It is when heart speaks to heart (which was Newman's motto).

For Deacon Jack Sullivan carries with him not only the effects of his miraculous healing, but also his deep and abiding friendship with the man whose prayer healed him. It is that friendship that is one of the marks of sanctity, of holiness; it is such friendship that is one of the blessed joys of heaven.


***


Here's our short movie on Newman's conversion, filmed on location where it happened in Littlemore, England ...




... and here I am as Bl. Dominic Barberi, the Passionist priest who received John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church ...




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January 14th, 2015A Life of Leisure is a Civilized Lifeby Joseph Pearce

I was struck by this very good article on the importance of leisure, properly understood and properly practiced. Read on, at your leisure!

http://www.classicalchristianahomeschool.com/blog/the-danger-of-a-leisure-less-life

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January 14th, 2015The Best of Ignatius Pressby Joseph Pearce

I’ve been asked by Ignatius Press to list six of its titles that I consider to be my own personal favourites and which I would recommend to others. Considering how many wonderful books Ignatius has published over the years, it was not an easy task. Indeed I am haunted by many significant sins of omission. In any event, here are the six titles that I selected with my brief reasons for choosing thus:

Ignatius Press has been blazing a trail with the publication of new Catholic fiction which I hope will be catalytic in the generation of a renewed Catholic literary revival in the twenty-first century. A Postcard from the Volcano by Lucy Beckett would be my pick of the bunch. Superbly well-written by an author who is steeped in western culture and thoroughly knowledgeable of European history, this novel should be on every well-read Catholic’s reading list.

Whilst on the subject of contemporary Catholic fiction, I would be committing a sin of omission were I not to mention the novels of Michael D. O’Brien. Any and all of his works are worth reading but I still think his first, Father Elijah, is possibly his finest.  

Ignatius has also blazed a worthy trail with its active promotion of the works and legacy of the great G. K. Chesterton. One thinks especially perhaps of the painstaking publication of the Collected Works. My Chestertonian choice (apart from my own biography of him!) would be one of Dale Ahlquist’s introductions to Chesterton, such as Common Sense 101.

I cannot get enough of the writing of the wonderful Thomas Howard and would especially recommend his Dove Descending, an engaging and enlightening study of T. E. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

As an aficionado of the great literary works of Christendom, it has been a true honour to be the series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. I would unflinchingly recommend any of the titles in this very important series but will single out The Merchant of Venice, principally for the simply sublime critical essays which shed priceless light on this so often misunderstood and misconstrued play.

Last but indubitably not least would be any and all of the works of Pope Benedict XVI/Cardinal Ratzinger, of which the awe-inspiring brilliance of The Spirit of the Liturgy would be my first choice.  

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January 14th, 2015King Lear Learns to Loveby Joseph Pearce

This morning I had the great pleasure of watching a delightful production of Twelfth Night on the campus of Belmont University, here in Nashville. This afternoon, I had the pleasure of reading this excellent article on King Lear:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/seeing-love-reflection-king-lear

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January 13th, 2015My Eurekas Spring Forthby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas

I am writing this late at night in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, one of the most charming and bizarre places on Earth.  And so I pass along a few observations, which may or may not be "eureka!" worthy ...

  • Fidelity to our vocations is part of fidelity to Christ.  Our identities are tied up in our vocations.  Thus, if a man cheats on his wife, his very identity is compromised.  Likewise if he cheats on his vocational calling in the world.

  • "History is a long defeat" is not only true for world history, but is true as well in our own lives.  We'll never be perfect, and if our zeal for God gets translated into zeal for perfection, we become impossible to live with - so much so that we can't even stand ourselves.  We must strive for perfection and be ever frustrated that we don't reach it.  This keeps us humble.  As does getting old.

  • The key to the Kingdom is humility.  To enter the vast cathedral with its heaven-high ceiling, you must bow very low to fit through the door, smelling the dirt on the way in.  And most of that dirt you smell is yours.

  • One of the best ways to be humble is to smell that dirt of yours - to realize you're always prone to sin.  This explains why the effects of original sin are allowed to linger in the baptized, even when the guilt is removed and sanctifying grace is given.  It is more important to be imperfect and aware of your own failure, than it is to be perfect and self-satisfied: for self-satisfaction is the uroboros.  And of course, self-satisfaction is an imperfection - which is why to be truly perfect, we need the cross.  Thus the cross is the great symbol of defeat, and by embracing this lifelong defeat, we take up our cross and are remade.

  • Gradualism, the gradual sliding into serious sin, is pernicious, much more pernicious than we can imagine.  We will slowly slide toward doing things that we would never imagine ourselves doing were the temptation presented to us immediately and outright.  Gradualism is grooming and grooming is gradualism.  A man will slowly slide into becoming a vile sinner by crossing one small boundary at a time, over many months or years.

  • I have invented a word for the childless contracepting shacking up Yuppies and gays who love effete cultural activities: the STERILIGENTSIA.  Here in Eureka Springs, the steriligentsia go to the fancy restaurants, crystal shops and aroma therapy spas downtown; the rustic reproducers go to the Passion play and country music shows and all-you-can-eat buffets on the ridge.  And in the same way that there are two competing cities described by St. Augustine of Hippo: the Earthly City and the City of God, so are there two other competing cities described by St. Kevin of Hipster: Sterility City and Toddler Town.

  • We become what we love.


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January 13th, 2015Chesterton in Tennesseeby Joseph Pearce

This week finds me back in Tennessee at Aquinas College in Nashville. I have lots of exciting activities planned, not least of which is my first public speaking engagement of 2015. This Thursday evening I am speaking at New College in Franklin on “G. K. Chesterton: Champion of Orthodoxy”. I hope that any Chestertonians in central Tennessee will try to attend. My own talk is a curtain-raiser for Chuck Chalberg’s one-man Chesterton show (as seen on EWTN) which we’re bringing to the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College on February 24th.

This week, on my calendar, is dinner with Catholic composer, Michael Kurek, of Vanderbilt University, who, amongst his many other achievements, has composed a ballet of Macbeth.  Continuing with the Shakespearean dimension of this week’s activities, I’m going to see the Nashville Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night. I’m also guest-teaching a class on Tolkien at Belmont University for which I’m honoured to say that my book Tolkien: Man & Myth is being used as a set text. Life is good!

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January 13th, 2015Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul”by Daniel J. Heisey

Sixty-five years ago premiered The Consul, an English-language opera in three acts.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1950, enhancing the growing reputation of its young composer and librettist, Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007).  A performance for television in 1960 is available on DVD.  That version recreated the original production, and Patricia Neway brilliantly reprised her role as Magda Sorel, the central figure in the opera.  Central, that is, unless one counts the looming presence of the never seen and unnamed Consul.

The Consul is set in a police state somewhere behind the Iron Curtain.  Menotti said that he got the idea for The Consul when he read a newspaper story about a woman in an Eastern Bloc country who was denied a visa to the United States and then committed suicide.  Menotti transformed that fleeting and tragic news item into a powerful and enduring work of art.

The late twentieth century saw topical operas by another American composer, John Adams, works such as Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer.  Controversial from their first performances, they will probably fade from the repertoire once people have forgotten the historical events on which those operas were based.  Meanwhile, Menotti’s The Consul will endure because of its timeless, almost mythological or fairy tale, quality.  In order to appreciate The Consul, one need never have heard of the news report that had inspired Menotti.

In the 1950s and 1960s, The Consul spoke to the fears and tensions of the Cold War.  In 2000, when Menotti directed a revival of The Consul at Kennedy Center, it fit into current debates about immigration.  All the while, The Consul transcends passing political worries and addresses perennial themes such as the duty a citizen owes his country, the state’s tendency to turn humans into numbers, the instinct of parents to provide for the security of their children.

In a large city in a totalitarian state in Europe, Magda Sorel lives in a small, walk-up flat with her husband, their baby, and her widowed mother.  Magda’s husband, John, is a critic of the oppressive regime, and because he attended a clandestine midnight meeting that had been raided, he is on the run from the authorities.

As plain clothes police officers arrive to search his residence, he hides on a ledge on the roof of the apartment.  The chief inspector questions Magda and tries to intimidate her with menacing, double-edged lines such as, “We like to give people a second chance,” “We could leave you alone if you would prove to be of help,” and “We shall see each other again.”

Once the police have gone, John climbs back inside and prepares to flee that night for the frontier.  Driven by fear for her family’s safety, Magda obeys John’s parting instructions and goes the next day to the consulate to apply for a visa for her family to leave the country.

At the consulate, she encounters the slow, heartless routine of any bureaucracy.  With several other aspiring emigrants, Magda must wait to see the Consul while a lone secretary sits at her typewriter and processes paperwork.  To an elderly man who has been retuning day after day, the secretary explains, “It isn’t our fault if you never bring the necessary documents.”  In answer to Magda’s repeated pleas, the secretary reminds Magda of the inflexible procedure:  “Your name is a number, your story’s a case, your need a request, your hopes will be filed.  Come back next week.”

Among the desperate people waiting day after day in that dreary office is a man claiming to be a famous magician.  He regales the secretary with his resume and attempts to charm her with magic tricks.  She tries to retain her cold façade but is clearly flustered by his antics, nothing ever covered in the training manual, and to his chagrin he realizes that confronted with such a resolute gatekeeper, there can be no magic word, no “Open sesame.”

Like the magician and the others, Magda must come back each day and fill out new forms.  Worn down by months of waiting to see the Consul, Magda despairs.  Her husband is a fugitive, her baby has died, her mother is dying, and the secret police patrol outside her flat.  All because the country she loves has become a prison.

At the end of Act Two, Magda sings a show-stopping aria, “To this we’ve come.”  She laments to the secretary, “If to them, not to God, we now must pray,/tell me, Secretary, tell me,/who are these men? . . . Who are these dark archangels?/ . . . Is there one—anyone behind those doors/to whom the heart can still be explained?/ . . . I ask you for help,/and all you give me is papers!”  The person left unmoved by Magda’s anguish is but a fist clenched around a hammer and sickle.

For close to seventy years some critics have disdained Menotti’s operas as second-rate Puccini.  Moreover, since Menotti’s operas are in English, those critics dismiss them as merely quaint operettas.  Menotti himself billed The Consul as “a musical drama,” hoping to attract a wider audience beyond the standard white-tie opera society crowd.

Still, there are worse fates than being labeled a poor man’s Puccini, and people who avoid opera because they cannot understand Italian (or French or German) have no excuse with Menotti’s works.  Like Puccini’s Tosca, Menotti’s The Consul explores themes of love, faith, and loyalty bullied and crushed under a dictatorship.  Unlike Tosca, there is no need for subtitles.  Opera distills human nature to elements common to us all and need not be obscure to be great.

A year after composing The Consul, Menotti wrote the first opera for television, Amahl and the Night Visitors.  Ever since, whether on stage or the small screen, it has been a favorite parable for Christmas.  Amahl’s tale is happier than Magda’s, but both characters reveal deep truths about family and faith, as well as about hope and love.  Menotti was a deeply religious man, yet he was full of questions and doubts.  As an artist, he used his inner struggles to shape his work; Menotti understood human nature and how to express its fears and desires in beautiful words and music.

 

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

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January 10th, 2015Inside Out - Actors and Catholicsby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



I have known some actors who have an extrinsic view of their careers.  In other words, they see their success in show business as a kind of thing an actor acquires, an adornment, a sort of garment to be put on - and they seek with tireless energy the luck that will throw them that garment.

Others focus on the love they have for their craft and on doing good work and figuring out a way to make a living doing what they love.  The difference between the two is the difference between a man who marries a woman because he likes how she looks when he parades her in public and a man who marries a woman because he loves her and would do anything for her.  If, in the latter case, she happens to look good on a date, that's a bonus, but it's not the heart of the matter.

Love for your vocation is intrinsic.  The trappings of your vocation are extrinsic.

We see something similar in theology.  Martin Luther saw justification as an entirely extrinsic thing, a covering put on by a sinner that does not change the sinner in any way, but that merely makes him acceptable in the eyes of God.  This is radically different from the Catholic notion of justification, which involves sanctification, an ontological change, a change in the very being, an intrinsic change - indeed a death and rebirth - in the sinner who receives God's grace.

But most American Catholics are Protestants with beads.  Many of my Devout Catholic friends seem to have this same Protestant extrinsic view of their faith.  They may not articulate justification in a Lutheran way, but they act as if Faith for them is a kind of fashion, a garment they put on, not a change that starts from within.  In the same way that Hipsters dress and talk a certain way, and identify with the externals, thinking that the music they play and the things they say and the clothes they wear actually make up who they are, so some Devout Catholics go to Daily Mass, pray devotions, know the pop-Catholic catch phrases, fawn over Catholic media celebrities, and identify as Catholics because of this, getting trapped in the trappings of the Faith.

Please don't get me wrong.  I'm not judging them because of this, because I'm often like this, too.  Everything we do in life is a mixture of organic things that express who we are and extrinsic accotrements that we sometimes have to rely on when the motivation is lacking, when who we are falls short of what we ought to do.  

In a sense, we are all actors cast in roles that are too big for us to play.

St. John addressed this sort of thing about 2,000 years ago ...

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1 John 3:9-10)


In other words, we shall know them by their fruits (Mat. 7:20), for the true works of Christians are the fruits of the seed of God - His Holy Spirit, dwelling in us.  But what a great rebuke this is to all of us unregenerate sinners who persist in our sins - and who thereby remain "children of the devil"!

... or, as I like to call them, bad actors.


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January 10th, 2015Holy Motherhoodby Joseph Pearce

A few months ago I was honoured to be asked to write the foreword to a book celebrating the life of Rosie Gil, a woman who epitomized the path to sanctity to be found in the openness to life. A pioneer of Catholic homeschooling, Rosie Gil's devotion to her faith and family is truly inspiring. 

The book is now available: www.seeyouinheavenbook.com

 

Here's my Foreword:

 

See You in Heaven

The life of Rose Lee Gil

 

Foreword

by Joseph Pearce

 

I never knew Rosie Gil because her earthly life passed away before I had the opportunity to meet her. Yet, in spite of this, I feel that I know her very well. The reason is that I have met her posthumously in the spiritual scrapbook of her life which this book represents. In the following pages Rosie’s own words of wisdom and love are interwoven with the memories of her daughter, Maria.

Wisdom and Love … In the life of Rosie Gil, as in the lives of the saints, these two great gifts are always inextricably interwoven; inseparable because they are ultimately One, united in the Divine Source from which they have their being.   

Rosie Gil was a homeschooling mother of eight who exalted the vocation of motherhood and assisted others in educating their own children. Rosie and her husband Robert organized the first homeschool organization in Louisiana and then the first Catholic homeschool organization in Alabama. Yet these are the bare bones of her life. The flesh was always the Word of God, which she lived and loved and which she taught others to live and love, not least of whom were her own children.

In our darkened and wicked world, which destroys marriage, denigrates motherhood and slaughters children, we need the powerful witness of Rosie Gil, a loving wife and mother who raised her children with the self-sacrificial heart of true love. As with the lives of the saints, she is a candle in the dark. But she is also a flame of the Family, shining forth the hope of the Home to the hopeless and homeless. Maria Gil, the author of this little gem of sanity and sanctity, hopes that it will serve as “a much needed handguide for women and mothers in a very confused world” and that it will be “a treasure for Catholic homeschool mothers and their families”. It is, however, a pearl beyond the price of any earthly treasure because it shows us that the hearth of home is a Mother’s heart.

I’d like to address my final words not to the reader who is about to be blessed by this book but to Rosie Gil herself whose life has been a blessing to all who knew her and to all who, through this slim volume, are destined to know her.

As the title of this little book suggests, Rosie Gil, we may indeed hope to see you in heaven. In the meantime, we give thanks for seeing a glimpse of heaven in the holiness of your life on earth. Through your love of Christ and His Church and in your Christian example of true motherhood, you have blessed us all. May flights of angels sing you to your reward, Rosie Gil, and may your posthumous presence continue to bless those of us still struggling in the Vale of Tears.

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January 7th, 2015Africa’s Catholic momentby Kevin Kennelly

Why do we have a hard time accepting that the poor are more likely to accept  Christianity ( and remain faithful) than the rich, the beautiful , the self satisfied . This thought is nothing if not well documented in the New Testament and verified by history. Ireland was poor but Catholic ; Ireland is rich but not Catholic. As the first world shamefully sheds its beliefs , the faith thrives in Africa. In my hometown , we have several OUTSTANDING African priests ......missionaries , I suppose, to a flagging culture. Mr. George Weigel Africa's Catholic Moment on this subject is well worth reading.

http://denvercatholicregister.org/opinion/africas-catholic-moment/#.VKxxF2K9KSM

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January 7th, 2015The Politics of Tolkienby Joseph Pearce

Years ago, I had the honor of writing the foreword to Bradley J. Birzer's excellent book, J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth. Today I have the pleasure of posting a truly excellent article by Dr. Birzer on Tolkien's politics:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/01/ten-points-tolkiens-politics.html

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January 6th, 2015Pope Pius XII on Stalinism and Other Evilsby Brendan D. King

Pope Pius XII to "an enormous crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square" to protest the show trial of Cardinal Mindszenty, February 20, 1949.

Excerpted from "His Humble Servant: Sister M. Pascalina Lehnert's Memoirs of Her Years of Service to Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII". Page 150.

"Do you want a Church that remains silent when She should speak; that diminishes the law of God where she is called to proclaim it loudly, wanting to accommodate it to the will of man? Do you want a Church that departs from the unshakable foundations upon which Christ founded Her, taking the easy way of adapting Herself to the opinion of the day; a Church that is a prey to current trends; a Church that does not condemn the suppression of conscience and does not stand up for the just liberty of the people; a Church that locks Herself up within the four walls of Her temple in unseemly sycophancy, forgetting the divine mission received from Christ: 'Go out the crossroads and preach the people'? Beloved sons and daughters! Spiritual heirs of numberless confessors and martyrs! Is this the Church you venerate and love? Would you recognize in such a Church the features of your Mother? Would you be able to imagine a Successor of St. Peter submitting to such demands?"

In reply to the Holy Father came a single cry like thunder still ringing in our ears: "No!"

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January 6th, 2015The Theology of the Bawdyby Joseph Pearce

I enjoy the literary musings of Sean Fitzpatrick and his latest piece on "The Theology of the Bawdy" is particularly good:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/theology-bawdy

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January 5th, 2015Absolute Comfort Corrupts Absolutelyby Joseph Pearce

My latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative makes the unlikely connection between Homer and Pink Floyd to show that comfort is the great corrupter:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/01/absolute-comfort-corrupts-absolutely.html

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January 4th, 2015Join Me and Fr. Dwight Longenecker in Englandby Joseph Pearce

June will be here before we know it, and for those of you who have not yet registered and yet would like to join me and Father Dwight Longenecker on the “English Martyrs & Catholic Writers” tour of June 3 – 12, 2015, there is still time to register.

The registration form is due by February 28th with the final deadline of March 31st. Late registrations will be accepted with a small late fee according to the terms.

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January 1st, 2015A Literary Pilgrimage with Ralph C. Woodby Joseph Pearce

I've recently had the pleasure of reading the Christmas Letter of the great literary luminary and scholar, Ralph C. Wood, whose works I have admired for years. It contained details of such a joyous literary romp from the Deep South to the Mystic West (of Ireland) that I've sought and received his permission to share this part of his Letter with visitors to the Ink Desk:

  Two summer ventures were among the highlights of our year. In June, we spent a long weekend in Louisiana celebrating the life and work of a writer whom I’ve taught and written about for forty years: Walker Percy. Suzanne and I visited the gravesite of Percy and his wife Bunt in the burial ground of St. Joseph’s Benedictine monastery in Covington. We then circled back to St. Francisville, an historic riverport town located near a great bend of the Mississippi. We joined a host of other folks engaged in lively conversation about the things Percy believed and loved and criticized. Among other delights, there was a crawfish boil, a shrimpfest, a pig pickin’, even a bourbon-tasting tour of four historic homes. The whole event was organized and underwritten by Rod Dreher, author of a remarkable book about leaving the high places of New York journalism to live in his Louisiana hometown. It’s entitled The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. My talk was delivered in the restored Jewish synagogue. It was devoted to Percy’s complex relation to his adoptive father, William Alexander Percy— the Mississippi aristocrat, plantation owner, civic leader, and writer who is remembered mainly for his poignant memoir, Lanterns on the Levee. I would have trembled had anyone told me in advance that there were Percy family members in the audience, including Walker and Bunt’s daughter! Hence my relief when they assured me later that I had got things right.

  Then in July we traveled to Ireland for an international symposium on Flannery O’Connor held at All Souls College in Dublin. We especially enjoyed Trinity College library with its many antique holdings, including the Book of Kells. It was also worthwhile seeing St. Patrick’s Anglican Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift served as Dean from 1713-45. We then traveled northward to follow the trail left by St. Patrick, the heroic 5th century missionary who managed to convert the war-making Irish without incurring a single martyrdom. We visited the holy mountain called Croagh Patrick as well as his gravesite and museum in Downpatrick. We also ascended the gentle but stony slope of Knocknarea to behold a huge 3500 BC rock cairn raised in honor of mythical Queen Maeve. Perhaps the most moving places we visited was the memorial honoring the Irish émigrés who sought to escape the horrible 19th century potato famine—one million died and more than a million were forced to emigrate. As you will notice, its fleeing victims are figured in the ship’s rigging.

  We also attended Evensong in the Anglican church at Sligo where William Butler Yeats’ grandfather served as rector in the 19th century. It was the opening event of the annual Yeats Festival, which this year was led by my Baylor colleague Richard Russell. We visited various Yeats sites in Donegal, among them the medieval High Crosses. At these holy places located at or near monasteries, sermons were preached, covenants made and reconciliations sealed, as the Christian story was figured in the stone. These impressive monuments were Ireland’s chief contribution to medieval art. Then we ventured into Northern Ireland to learn more about the work of Seamus Heaney, the Nobel-winning poet who visited the Baylor campus only two years ago. A friend of the poet, Eugene Kielt, guided us on a splendid tour of several sites that feature prominently in Heaney’s work. Among these were Devlin’s Forge, the family farm in Anahorish, the statue of the Turfman (commemorating Heaney’s most famous poem, “Digging”), the bus station where his mother could have been incinerated when it was blown up by the IRA, as well as Heaney’s grave in Bellaghy. Thus did we enter into the living worlds of poetry and poverty and sainthood as books and pictures could never enable us to do.  

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December 31st, 2014The Magical Thinking of Devout Catholicsby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



There was a potential murder mystery client that I was hoping to land.  He had worked with every other murder mystery company around, and at that time there were three or four others in St. Louis.  They all told me the same thing, "The man is impossible to work for."  None of them lasted more than a few years performing at his venue.

"But I can do it!" I said to myself.  "They can't work with him, but I can work with him!  After all, I'm more intelligent and sensitive than they are.  I do well with difficult people.  I'll win him over, get him to like me.  I can succeed where all others failed!"

We lasted three months.  He was a monster.



***

I've noticed a strange sickness in Devout Catholics.  We don't seem to understand that trust is a form of rational assent.

This goes hand in hand with the malaise of our age - Unreality.

Let me explain what I mean.

We have faith in God because He is worthy of belief.  He exists.  Faith rests upon reason.  It goes beyond reason, for faith is an intellectual and emotional assent to something we have a rational basis for believing in, but which is not before our eyes.  Faith bridges the gap between indication and demonstration.  I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, for all indications are that it will (as it always has, and I notice, even late at night, the stars turning and light breaking in the east; therefore the indications are that it will again).  But once the demonstration is present, and the sun has risen, I need no longer exercise my faith, as the evidence is no longer hoped for, but present.

However faith can also be misplaced.  Every episode of American Greed demonstrates that the worst thing we can do is have confidence in a confidence man.

Faith, then, is justified in reality, in the test.  Faith is an exercise of the will.  It serves as a correspondence between the reality of the object-of-faith and our own belief in that object, even when the object is absent from our view.

However, when a man gives no indication of being trustworthy, it is foolish to trust him.  This is obvious, but Catholics too often indulge in magical thinking, and in that magical thinking lurks a good deal of pride, naive though the thinker may be: for even naive people, even the innocent, can be brim full of pride.

To say to someone, "I don't trust you" is not - or should not be - a subjective statement.  Unpacking that statement would go like this: "I don't trust you because you are not worthy of trust.  You have demonstrated bad behavior in the past, and there are no indications of good behavior in the future.  Because you are not trustworthy, if I were to exercise trust in you, my will would not be corresponding with truth, with reality - and that is a sin."

If a man burns through every murder mystery company in town, he will burn through you.  If you flatter yourself into believing that you can achieve what no one else has been able to achieve before you, you are both Innocent of the way the world works, and you are an Innocent soaked in Pride.

And yet, fellow Devout Catholics, we somehow think that faith justifies itself, or that - as the pop slogans and motivational posters tell us - it is a virtue to believe - though what the hell we're supposed to believe in is never hinted at.  Faith and trust are transient verbs (so to speak), they are actions that must take an object, and they are true if the object is worthy, false if the object is not.

Belief, faith, trust, hope - these things are not magical.  You can't make a man trustworthy by trusting in him.  You can't make a false god exist by believing in him.  You can't make Tinker Bell come back to life by gritting your teeth and believing really hard.   You can't make a bad actor a good actor, even if you're a brilliant director.  You can't make a bad husband a good husband, even if you think that by marrying him you can reform him.  You can't make neglectful bishops into caring bishops, no matter how many lawsuits you file or Dallas Charters you pressure them to pass.

Our wishes are not magical.

We need to get over our pride and start realizing, once again, that the whole purpose of virtuous living, for a Christian or a Pagan, is corresponding what we think and do with what actually exists.  We are to correspond with reality.  Anything less than that is not only hardly Christian, it's hardly human.

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December 31st, 2014I am concerned.by Dena Hunt

The Pope of the Catholic Church is not infallible. The papacy is. I understand this distinction. Spelled out, it goes like this: When the Holy Father speaks on faith and morals, he is speaking with the authority of Jesus Christ. That’s the parameter of his infallible authority. When he speaks on faith and morals, I listen. I obey. When the pope speaks on politics, scientific theory, or any other subject, I listen, but I am free to disagree, to disregard, and to choose to listen to those persons who actually do have authority in these areas.  The pope does not.

I regret that our current Holy Father speaks so strongly on topics about which no one expects him to know any more than anyone else. As far as his popular image is concerned, I don’t really care what color shoes he wears, what sort of car he goes about in, or where he chooses to set up housekeeping. I’m not given to judging such gossip-like details. Far from being impressed, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

I regret he got involved in clandestine political machinations with President Obama, and not because I agree or disagree with either man’s opinions on the subject of American foreign policy, but I regret even more that he’s now chosen to write an encyclical about climate change. I won’t read it. I prefer to read opinions from those who are more qualified in the areas about which they speak. And I also regret he was not clear, right out there, up front, overt and specific, about the faith-and-morals teaching of the Church on issues like divorce and homosexual marriage.

St. John Paul the Great lived and operated under total political suppression. What made his life as a cardinal in communist Poland so extraordinary was his focus on his responsibility as a religious leader of his people.  Eventually, that steadfast devotion to his duty helped to bring about the downfall of that suppression. He was never unclear or vague about faith and morals—quite the contrary—and he never touted his opinions on matters outside the faith.

Nothing is more seductive than flattery and applause, especially from a fickle and sensation-hungry press, and nothing is more fatal to our souls than vanity. Time spent alone on our knees, as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI are known to have done, can clear up a lot of confusion about what God’s will is, about what our responsibility is, even for the ordinary layperson. St. John Paul wrote every word of his encyclicals in the presence of Blessed Sacrament. But those encyclicals were about faith and morals. I suppose “encyclicals” on other subjects can be written anywhere, provided one wears shoes of a politically correct color.

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December 31st, 2014The Movie and the Meta-Movie: Reflections on “The Interview”by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org


People don't realize how important we are to freedom.  The first thing a totalitarian society suppresses is its comedians. - Groucho Marx

John Lennon said something similar, which was that nobody would ever take him seriously enough to try to assassinate him the way they assassinate politicians, because he and Yoko were just fools - just comedians.  Of course, this was before he was assassinated.



***

So on Christmas Day, my son Colin and I thumbed our noses at North Korea - or whoever hacked Sony - and watched The Interview in the comfort of our suburban American home.

The movie was funny and provocative - more so because of the Meta-movie (the hack and the terrorist threats) - than the film itself.

In fact, the movie is quite bad in some ways.  There were parts of it that were utterly offensive and juvenile - not because I find gross out humor unfunny, but because it's obvious that corporate-think is behind so much of the garbage Hollywood feeds us these days.  Hollywood Rude Comedies are test marketed and aimed primarily at frat boys, or 14-year-old morons who will soon become frat boys.

And so, in the same way that every single movie made for young kids must have exactly three fart jokes, so Rude Comedies are now (apparently) required to include at least one joke about pornography and semen - regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you or how forced and unnecessary the joke might happen to be.

And this movie had that (and then some) - and that offends me, because it's so obviously a corporate insert designed for a specific effect.  The obligatory vulgarities seemed unrelated to the movie's artistic merit or integrity.

Which is a shame, for this film does have some artistic merit and does have some integrity.  It is a cut above most Rude Comedies, despite the uncomfortable moments.

But the real integrity of this movie is the Meta-Movie, the story outside the story.  For both the message in the move and the message outside the movie are the same.

And that message is this - rude, crass and vulgar as our American pop culture is, there is something authentic and liberating about it, something funny and spontaneous and alive, something Real - and our humor can topple tyrants, the way our typically American chewing gum topples a bad guy in a disturbing and yet strangely funny scene in this movie.

And indeed Lennon and Marx may long survive Lenin and Marx.

And North Korea has a long way to go before they learn this lesson.

South Korea (foreground), North Korea (background) at the Demilitarized Zone.  I took this picture on our Department of Defense tour to East Asia, 1991.



 

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December 31st, 2014Physical Disabilities and the Origins of the Cosmosby Joseph Pearce

I sent the article about the origins of the cosmos, which I posted to the Ink Desk earlier today, to an atheist friend of mine in England. His response was good and enlightening. I was particularly touched by this paragraph, full of the humility that is sadly lacking from so many advocates of scientism:  

We don't really know all that much. Our physics is known to be seriously incomplete. The theory of the Very Large (General Relativity) conflicts in serious respects with the theory of the Very Small (Quantum Physics), so one or both are definitely incorrect (this is not controversial). Also both Theories end up with 96% of the mass/energy in the Universe comprised of Unknown Stuff ("Dark Matter" and "Dark Energy"). A body of physical theory that can only explain 4% of the Universe and even then contradicts itself is no basis for hubristic bragging....

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December 31st, 2014Voegelin and the Two Waysby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

I am in the midst of reading a number of excellent books, including several by Eric Voegelin, a brilliant writer, who has been recommended to me before.  Blog reader Marianne Bacon is the latest to suggest him - and I'm glad she did, as I've been devouring whatever ebooks I could find of his since last week.  He gives a name to the nameless heresy of our age, and writes profoundly about what I've been calling Unreality, and he analyzes it philosophically, psychologically and historically.

I plan on writing about Voegelin at length and in detail soon.

But here's what he seems to be saying in a nutshell.



There are two primary ways societies organize themselves.  One is in accordance with transcendent truths and with the truths of the human psyche.  The other is in accordance with Unreality, subjective systems that reject transcendent truths and that brutalize the human psyche in order forcibly to reshape it to suit the society's ends.  Socially we see this most clearly in totalitarian states, and in fiction Orwell captured it in his novel 1984, which is about the exhaustive and violently dehumanizing attempt to keep Reality suppressed so that the arbitrary Unreality of the party can hold sway.  Voegelin calls this Gnosticism and traces it back to the original Gnosticism of ancient times.

What he says is crucial to today's insanity, for our society has now become so utterly "Gnostic", and so absurdly devoted to the Unreal that even a person's sex is denied.  Neither our chromosomes nor our genitalia determine what sex we are anymore - or so the Lie goes.  Men are not men and women are not women.  Even the most fundamental distinction in our very nature is up for grabs.  And that's just the most startling example of an age wherein we honestly believe that reality is whatever we call it, that our powers of creating fiction are limitless, that our Unreality is real, and by God we'll crush anyone who points out, even meekly, that it isn't.  We are even forced to believe that marriage, for example, is not a real thing but a fictional creation, a merely subjective human whim that bears no relation to anything beyond itself.

As I say, I'll write more about this later, for it goes to the heart of the single most fundamental distinction between people these days.  That distinction is not Christian vs. Secular, it's Gnostic vs. Realist.  You'll recall that much of my critique of Christopher West and the Sex Magic he's peddling is that it's Gnostic.  I called it that long before reading Voegelin, and it shows that even those within the Church can be as devoted to Unreality as those without - sometimes more so.

Again, that which divides us (at least to an outside observer) is not our position within or without the Catholic Church.  What divides us is this ...

1. Do we think of reality as something ordered, awesome and transcendent, a Truth to which we struggle to correspond, both in thought and action (and for Christians through worship and prayer), something beyond us, which can only be approached with humility?

or

2. Do we think of reality as a subjective construct that we must work very hard to maintain, even if we must use brutal or immoral means to do so?

In other words, do we approach reality with humility or with pride?  This is the fundamental question at the root of everything Voegelin says.

And many of my friends, even my Devout Catholic friends, are of the second camp, prideful, Unrealists, Inconsequentialists.  They find themselves in the wrong branch of the divide - perhaps through no fault of their own, for our society is Gnostic and is as viciously insistent on its Untruths in 2014 as the Soviet Union ever was in 1954, when Voegelin was writing.  It's in the air we breathe - even (perhaps especially) in the air inside our weird suburban shopping mall parishes.

Meanwhile, here are some aspects of this modern Gnosticism of Unreality that I've noticed ...


UNREALITY (Gnosticism) =

  • Lack of boundaries (since we create our own reality, reality's boundaries are always shifting)
  • Formlessness & vagueness (form fades with the denial of metaphysics, and without form nothing can be defined)
  • Exhaustive effort to maintain the fiction (my fellow neurotics and addicts - you know what I mean by this)
  • Contempt for the real world (Unrealists are very angry that their Cloud Cities are always evaporating in the heat of that real thing we call the sun)
  • Ingratitude (you can only be grateful for a gift, and if you work very hard to make reality, reality is never a gift)
  • Addictive behavior (addicts are clear examples of people devoted to their own make-believe, even if it kills them or kills others)
  • Inversion - light becomes dark (a demonic inversion always results from these points)
  • No humility - as you are the god of your own reality


These are simply notes, first impressions of a profoundly important writer that I'm very grateful I've discovered.

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December 31st, 2014The Best of all Impossible Worldsby Joseph Pearce

G. K. Chesterton once said that we don't live in the best of all possible worlds, we live in the best of all impossible worlds. As this article from the Wall Street Journal illustrates, it seems that science is finally beginning to agree with Chesterton: 

In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.
Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.

Read the rest here: http://www.wsj.com/articles/eric-metaxas-science-increasingly-makes-the-case-for-god-1419544568

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December 30th, 2014Is the Catholic Church Elitist?by Joseph Pearce

I've just replied to an e-mail correspondent who seemed to be suggesting that the literary converts at the heart of the Catholic Revival were "upper class" and that "it is not surprising that so many of the upper classes of Europe were drawn to Catholicism with its rigid emphasis on the divine right of the hierarchy and natural inequalities between people".

  Here's my response:

  I'm not sure that you make your perspective very clear so I'm not sure of the extent to which I agree with you.

  I will, however, make a few observations suggestive of my unease with what I take to be your drift.

  First, the majority of the literary converts were certainly not "upper class" in the sense in which that term is usually understood in Europe. Far from being blue-blooded aristocrats most of the converts were from the middle class, sometimes, as was the case with Tolkien, from the impoverished middle class.

  Catholicism does not teach "the divine right of the hierarchy" any more than it teaches the divine right of kings. It teaches the divine right of Divinity! It is true that within the Mystical Body of Christ, i.e. the Church, there is a divinely instituted hierarchy but it is perilous in the extreme to conflate the Body of Christ with the secular Body Politic.

  As for the Church's alleged "rigid emphasis on the natural inequalities between people" this is always trumped by an even more rigid insistence on the supernatural equality between people as creatures made in God's image. Whatever natural differences exist between people they remain co-heirs of the Kingdom. This is why the Church protects the weakest members of society, such as the disabled and the unborn.  

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December 30th, 2014Big Hearted Big Businessby Joseph Pearce

The pernicious secularism promoted by big business was epitomized for me during a visit to Walgreens on Christmas Eve. As I searched for the tinsel that my six-year-old had requested for the tree, I heard a commercial for flu shots to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Since the word "Christmas" is verboten in the language of modern big business, the singer in the commercial altered the words to remove the offensive language. If my memory serves me correctly, he sung words to the effect that "on the first day of the holidays" his true love had given him the flu. With this admittedly trivial effort by Walgreens to inoculate its customers against the harmful effects of Christmas ringing in my ears, I was heartened upon my return home to discover a wonderful commercial being shown in the UK this Christmas season for the supermarket chain, Sainsbury's. It takes as its theme the famous Christmas Truce in the trenches in 1914. It presents a profoundly Christian message and rekindled my faith in the ability of big business to be big hearted. 

I urge all visitors to the Ink Desk to take a few minutes to watch this heart-lifting commercial:    

http://youtu.be/NWF2JBb1bvM

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December 30th, 2014Christmas Musings by Sister Xby Joseph Pearce

I've just received this wonderful e-mail from a religious sister whom I met on my recent travels. Whilst protecting her privacy, I thought I'd share her thoughts on Christmas, Aragorn, George MacDonald, Father Faber, the Rosary, and my own conversion: 

(Dec. 25) When you came in December, it was Advent; I waited for Christmas to write you. I enjoyed listening - again - to your talk on the Catholic Significance of Lord of the Rings. I was happy as well to be able share conversation over breakfast with you and Sister and Father. Hope you had an enjoyable visit and that you can return again sometime.

  So here we are celebrating the day that Jesus came forth to establish His Kingdom in the darkness of sin and hate. Tolkien's visual of Aragorn leaving Rivendale at night on Christmas is such a vivid portrayal of the symbolism: He is going to establish his kingdom, but going into a dark, frightening world of corruption and fear - the extent of the corruption seems to compound the further he goes. He is ready to take it on, having prepared for it all his life.

I am reading Race With the Devil. My gracious, Joseph. You are amazing....giving lectures in your teens! No wonder you are such a good speaker -- giving lectures with police escort and under fire. God gave you a determined drive to give 150 percent to whatever cause you were behind. You didn't know it, but you were already in training for His work. Remember St. Paul? He had such zeal for the Jewish Religion, and he wouldn't accept any but the pure religion. And look how God used his ability and drive.

  The 60's were sadly a time of general decline and upheaval. The race riots, the social, political, economic, and even religious beliefs were all under fire. People were looking for independence and ascendency, and unfortunately came out the worse for it, because of leaving God out. He gave you the incredible grace to remain alive through it all and to look for something higher, through dependence on HIM. May He be praised. The story of the Rosary is amazing. Your father threw it (the symbol, not that exact set of beads) out the window and someone else gave it back to you. Our Lady listened to your inarticulate prayer in that unique place of retreat as you held on to her hand (the beads), just as a toddler holds onto its mother whimpering in fear. The mother needs no articulation.  May I share a Rosary story? A man with no religious background liked to collect old books and things. He acquired a small book, and in reading through it he was quite taken by a section that had "Our Father, Hail Mary, Hail Mary..." (ten times). He found such peace as he said it that he would repeat it on the way to work and even shared it with his wife who picked up the practice. Not long after, he found out from a Catholic in his office that those were just the first two words of the prayers. He and his wife then faithfully said all the prayers, and eventually one thing led to another, and they got instruction and were baptized Catholic.

  (Dec 26) Today my Rosary was for your brother Steve especially.

  I started praying for the repose of the soul of your father as I read the first part of your book, thinking he must have been a good man to have passed on such fire and drive to his son. I looked ahead to find the date of his death, which I did not find. What I did find gave me instead a moment of eucatastrophe....that he had a deathbed conversion. That was a thrill!! Thanks be to the mercy of God and the holy Rosary!

  George McDonald's Princess and the Goblin is my current aloud reading with the sixth grade students and they don't want me to stop when the bell rings. (I don't want to stop either, but we have to do Math next.) They are so into it, they want to give up their own quiet reading time to hear more. It is perfect for a mixed group; the boys like the bits with Curdie and the goblins, and the girls like the bits with Irene and the "great big grandmother" up in the turret. We haven't yet talked about some of the possible symbolic meanings in the story, but there are a lot and it will be interesting to see how many they come up with.

  Have you read any works by Father Faber? He was an Oratory priest shortly after Cardinal Newman, I believe. Most of his books are about doctrines of the Faith: Bethlehem, The Precious Blood, Foot of the Cross. When I first read some of his books I was amazed at his ability to write such long sentences (some being almost a page long) and still give the reader the ability to follow. That takes quite a command of the language. His descriptions are quite detailed and vivid.

  (Dec. 27) I just got your email address, so I am sending this off. Have a wonderful rest of the Christmas season... and a happy New Year.

  Keeping you and your family in prayer. May Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph bless you all.  

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December 30th, 2014A Note for Chestertoniansby Dena Hunt

Father Robert Barron, the media genius responsible for the wonderful Catholicism series, is currently producing a new series entitled Catholicism: The Pivotal Players. In January, he will go to England to film an entire episode on G. K. Chesterton. Chestertonians might want to take note. Here’s an excerpt from an email mentioning his plan:

I'll be traveling to England next month to continue filming our new series, CATHOLICISM: The Pivotal Players. We'll be filming two episodes, one on John Henry Newman and another on G.K. Chesterton. During the trip I'll share exclusive, behind-the-scenes videos through PivotalPlayers.com, so be sure to visit and sign up.

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December 23rd, 2014The Motto of Liberal Catholics: “Let’s Get the Green Beans Off the Buffet!”by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



One of the readers of my latest post (It's Not the Abuse Crisis - It's the Neglect Crisis) somehow got it into his head that I was making the claim that only the liberals are to blame for the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Church - which would be a pretty insane position for me to take.  Perhaps he hasn't read my criticisms of all of the so-called "conservative" bishops who have enabled abuse, such as Finn, Carlson, Niendstedt, Livieres, etc.

In fact, as everyone knows (but this lone reader),  the Abuse crisis cuts across the Big Divide.  If liberals could point to hung-up conservatives as abuse enablers, they would, except that conservatives can point to loosey-goosey liberals as abuse enablers.  The problem continues to be so wide-spread that every single type of bishop is guilty - and while some of the worst are from the right, some of the worst are also from the left.

But this shows how strange our thinking is.



Conservatives in the Church are a weird bunch, rebelling against the Church on Torture and Lying and Economic issues; but liberals in the Church are even stranger, for not only do the liberals rebel on any issue that has to do with our "naughty bits", the liberals go one step further and make the appallingly stupid mistake of thinking that Church teaching is up for grabs, and that it can be changed, despite 2,000 years of history to the contrary.  Not only can it be changed, it will be changed!  Just wait long enough and the bishops will endorse "gay marriage", contraception, abortion and pornography - all things most bishops even now wink at and ignore ... but someday these will be positive goods that the bishops will not only tolerate and enable - the bishops will proudly endorse every last one of them!  What a strange fantasy to have.

There are days when I wish I was taller than 5' 10".  But I don't demand that the yardstick be changed and that feet and inches be redefined to make me 6' 3".  In other words, I can understand not liking the measure the Church proposes by which we are to measure ourselves in relation to Christ.  I can understand ignoring that measure, discrediting it, making fun of it.  What I can't understand is how changing that measure will somehow change us.  My height will not change regardless of any tricks I play with the ruler.  But liberals are in awe of their ability to alter reality by changing the standards by which we measure reality.

Or try another metaphor.  Picture a liberal Catholic approaching the Catholic Cafeteria.  Almost all Catholics, liberal or conservative, are cafeteria Catholics, picking and choosing what they want from the buffet and ignoring the rest.  But the lefties go one step further, "I'm putting mashed potatoes on my plate, but no green beans!  And someday these green beans will be gone!  They won't even be on the buffet!  I won't even have to look at them any more!  And nobody will be able to take them!  Once we get the right kind of night manager in this Golden Corral, all of the food that we don't like and refuse to sample will be off the menu for good!"

The fact is, the Church of Christ is not about liberal vs. conservative, right vs. left.  It's about Catholics who are integrated with the Church and her teachings, as opposed to Catholics who are disintegrated from the Church and her teachings and who are therefore themselves disintegrating.  

Our integrity as Catholics stems from our degree of integration into the Body of Christ - and the proper word for that integration is Communion.

The Church offers on her buffet the foods that sustain us, and green beans don't cease to exist, even if they're off the buffet.  And the Church offers us a standard by which to measure our integration with Christ - and our integration won't change if we simply mess around with that standard.

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December 22nd, 2014Christmas in the Cradleby Joseph Pearce

My good friend, Fr. Benedict Kiely, priest, Englishman and regular columnist with the St. Austin Review, was a guest last week on EWTN's The World Over with Raymond Arroyo. He was discussing his passionate mission to succour and support the persecuted Christians in the Middle-East, who have seen their lives in the cradle of Christian civilization transformed into a hellish existence in the cauldron of Islamist hatred. Here's the full ten-minute interview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UvKI3A1HzI&app=desktop

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December 22nd, 2014No Room at the Inn: Celebrating in the Stableby Joseph Pearce

My latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative has me musing on the spirit of Christmas:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/12/no-room-at-the-inn-celebrating-christmas-in-the-stable.html

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December 22nd, 2014It’s Not the Abuse Crisis - It’s the Neglect Crisisby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



The Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church, horrible as it is, is simply the flip side of the Neglect Crisis in the Catholic Church.

What do I mean?

I mean that Neglect is a form of Abuse, and for the past fifty years, bishops, priests and lay Catholics have been neglecting the Faith, and the Vatican has accommodated this by neglecting the Neglect.  A predominantly homosexual clergy, covering and enabling a large number of child molesters, is simply one symptom of this Neglect.



Things are really as bad as Anonymous at First Things describes it, as he paints a picture of a real suburban parish that he leaves unnamed.  I would call it St. Somewhere, a Portrait of Neglect ...

Fr. Dave knows better than to suggest to his flock how to live as Catholics. He does not speak of sin. Ever. He does not discuss the saints, devotions, the rosary or prayer of any kind, marriage, death, the sacraments, Catholic family life, the Devil, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the young, mercy, forgiveness, or any other aspect of the Catholic faith that might be useful to a layperson. His homilies are the worst sort of lukewarm application of the day’s Gospel reading—shopworn sermons that sound very much like they were copied word for word from a book of Gospel reflections published in 1975. No one in the pews ever discusses his homilies as far as I can tell.


Rod Dreher quotes a reader of his who explains why this is so ...

An opposite case than Father Dave in the article. In Holy Family Parish in St. Albert, Alberta a wonderful Polish priest showed up two years ago. He began preaching solid Catholic homilies. He spoke of sin and how it separates us from God. He spoke of the machinations of the devil. He spoke of (gasp) marriage being between one man and one woman. He spoke against contraception and abortion. He moved the blessed sacrament behind the altar and he replaced a resurecifix with a crucifix. This was too much. Members of the parish council complained to the Archdiocese of Edmonton and had a sympathetic ear from parasitic bureaucrats there with no fondness for the faith. A year ago he was removed from the parish. The message is clear. Priests are not expected to challenge parishioners with the powerful and sometimes uncomfortable teachings of the faith but give lukewarm therapeutic feel good sermons. They are expected to operate just like Father Dave. Live a celibate life and perform weddings and funerals for people who never attend church and provide base sacraments without substance. Not a surprise that there is no surplus of men interested in this deal. 


Except such functionaries are not expected to live a celibate life.  Certainly not by their bishops or fellow priests.  Gay cruising, use of pornography, even affairs with married parishioners are common and either winked at or encouraged by the folks in charge.

Meanwhile, at the First Things article, the comments are typical, which is to say most of them applaud the author for describing the horror of St. Somewhere in detail, but many give the kind of reactions I get here and see elsewhere, such as ...

  • Things may be that bad where you are, but my parish is great!!!!!
  • Oh, so Mr. Holier-than-Thou Catholic talks about how bad things are at his parish when he should be busy praying and keeping his mouth shut!  The fact that he notices how bad things are around him tells you that he's not a good Catholic by any means!!!
  • Just love the Eucharist and pray some devotions, say a novena, and everything will be just fine!!!!  Mejugordje!  Yay!


But, of course, the point is that things are this bad and far worse.  Yes, there are good parishes and good Catholics here and there, but the Church in America is indistinguishable from the shopping mall down the street - except there are fewer gays running the shopping mall and the music is better.  At the very least the salt has lost its savor.  

And I could add an even sadder chapter to the First Things article featuring a few observations about the odd Catholics here and there that I have met who do care and who do try to be devout, but who either end up trapped in a cult like Regnum Christi because Rome is Neglectful about curtailing cults within the Church, or they end up throwing themselves into Catholicism-as-Entertainment (Matt Kelly on a headset / Christopher West on a loud speaker), not being able to distinguish Understanding (which is a gift of the Spirit) from mere emotion or excitement, or they end up heretical themselves, not realizing that the Faith is more than a fashion, and that Christ wants transformation not factionalism, or they become proud of their seriousness about the Faith when all around them are trivializing it, or (most commonly), they pray devotions and go to Mass frequently, but they don't let grace penetrate into their personal lives, nor do they let Christ approach their hidden treasure and cure their clutching Dragon Sickness because, for one thing, no one's shown them how and since the Faith seems so Unreal around them, they have no model for discovering its true Reality, as they (like their suburban brethren) are suffering terribly from decades of Neglect.

Meanwhile, on a dark and still night very long ago, a child was born in bitter cold, neglected by the world.  And so we share with Him a suffering that He somehow redeems.


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December 21st, 2014On the Duty of a Monarchby Brendan D. King

Many years ago, my father asked my grandfather, Scottish immigrant Laurence Joseph King, about the abdication of the Duke of Windsor. My dad was then a teenager with Marxist ideas and considered it ridiculous that an abdication was insisted upon by the British Government. To Dad's shock, Grandpa Larry responded, "He could not be King because he would not do his duty." It took many years for my Dad to realize the wisdom of his father's words.

I must say that I agree with my grandfather. It is very dangerous when the Crown rests upon the wrong head and my grandfather's words apply, not only to the Duke of Windsor, but to many other Royals from many nations and centuries. Queen Elizabeth I of England, Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria-Hungary, and the last Shah of Iran definitely bear this out.

Blessed Emperor Karl once said that, as Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, he certainly had rights, but that those rights were tempered by his duty. This duty is, in my opinion, best expressed in the words the current Queen of England spoke in her first address to the nation, "The whole of my life, whether it be long or short, shall be dedicated to your service." The last word is best left to the Marquis de Custine.

During the 1830's, the Marquis, a French Catholic Royalist, paid a visit to Tsarist Russia which he believed could save Europe from the lingering  ideas of the French Revolution. The Marquis left Russia deeply disillusioned by how the Tsar governed the State, the Orthodox Church, and the people by personal decree and backed up by police state tactics. 

The Marquis wrote that nations which prize "fidelity to insane masters" are neglecting their duty. Monarchy is only venerable, he says, when it governs justly. He concluded, "When Kings forget the conditions under which man is permitted to rule over his fellow men, the citizens have to look to God, their Eternal Governor, Who absolves them from their oath of fidelity to their temporal master."

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December 21st, 2014The Radical Catholic: An Interview with Cardinal Burkeby Kevin Kennelly

What to make of Cardinal Burke's steady opposition.....I do not think that too strong a word to use.....to the vector of Catholic belief and/or action being set by Francis? The good cardinal refers to having grown up in " a very beautiful time in the Church." If those days were beautiful than the present time is not ....one must conclude. One respondent writing about the interview says "Why aren't there hundreds of bishops in the church like Cardinal Burke? Why?" Not a bad question.

http://theradicalcatholic.blogspot.com/2014/12/an-intereview-with-cardinal-burke.html

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December 19th, 2014God or Mammon? Preview of the Next Issue of the St. Austin Reviewby Joseph Pearce

The January/February issue of the St. Austin Review is now winging its way to the printer.

  The theme of the next issue is “God or Mammon? Choosing Christ in a World in Crisis”.

  Highlights:   Thomas Storck considers “The Church’s Judgment on Capitalism and Socialism”.

  John Medaille examines “Distributism and the Polity of Political Economy”.

  R. McKay Stangler connects “Agrarianism and Christendom”.

  Edward Lawrence tackles the problem of “Serving God in Mammon’s World”.

  Donald DeMarco poses the question, “How do we know which side we are on?”

  Kevin O’Brien insists that “Choosing Christ Means Choosing the Cross”.

  Ken Clark admires The Transfiguration by Raphael.

  James Bemis praises the movie, Tree of Wooden Clogs.

  Fr. Dwight Longenecker contrasts “Distorted Desires and the Weight of Glory”.

  Fr. Benedict Kiely laments the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and asks “Why a Silence?”

  Susan Treacy reveals “The Transfer of Grace” in Poulenc’s Dialogues de Carmélites.

  John Beaumont pays tribute to Fr. Oliver Vassall-Phillips, “A Great but Neglected Catholic Apologist”.

  Joshua Schulz reviews A Catechism for Business.

  Matthew P. Akers reviews Liberty, the God the Failed.

  Brian McCall reviews The Wound and the Blessing: Economics, Relationships and Happiness.

  Deborah Savage reviews Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars.

  Carl R. Hasler reviews Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society.

  New Poetry by Timothy Lusch and Leah Acosta

  Remember: Wise Men Follow the StAR! Subscribe now at www.staustinreview.com/star/subscribe

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December 18th, 2014Tolkien on EWTNby Joseph Pearce

The latest Tolkien special that I have written and presented for EWTN was aired this week. For those who missed it, or those who would like to see it again, it is now available on DVD: 

http://www.ewtnreligiouscatalogue.com/shop.axd/ProductDetails?edp_no=28883

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December 18th, 2014Elves, Hobbits, Men and DVDsby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

There are two projects I've done with EWTN that, in my opinion, are the best things the Network has done, from a production and creative point of view.  The first is our Father Brown movie, The Honor of Israel Gow.  And the second is the show I mentioned the other day, Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings": Elves, Hobbits and Men.

It turns out the latter is available on DVD from the religious catalog - for only ten bucks!  Well worth the price.  You can order it here.

We also just found out that Season Seven of The Apostle of Common Sense, another series I appear on, is also now available.  Only $25 for 13 episodes on 4 discs.

These would make great Christmas gifts!

Filming The Honor of Israel Gow in Hanceville, Alabama.  That's me as Father Brown.

 

 

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December 18th, 2014Man, Religion & Tribalismby Joseph Pearce

My latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative looks at the crucial difference between religion and tribalism. It begins in the Ukraine, proceeds to Northern Ireland and ends in the trenches of World War One. Read on:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/12/religion-versus-tribalism.html

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December 18th, 2014The Catholicism of Middle-Earthby Joseph Pearce

Earlier this month I gave a talk on "The Catholicism of Middle-Earth" for the Faith and Reason Institute at Gonzaga University. This was filmed and is of excellent quality. As such, I'm supplying the link to the talk for those who might be interested:  http://youtu.be/tgxHDCIU1Hw

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December 17th, 2014Five Books Every Catholic Should Readby Joseph Pearce

My personal selection of the five indispensable books that every Catholic should read has just been published by Pete Socks on the Catholic Book Blogger. Check it out: 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/catholicbookblogger/2014/12/15/the-laity-speaks-joseph-pearce/

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December 17th, 2014Sorcha Ni Ghuairim, A Voice from Across a Thousand Yearsby Brendan D. King

Sorcha Ni Ghuairim (1911-1976), a native of the Connemara Peninsula of Western Ireland, is probably one of the greatest Irish Gaelic vocalists ever recorded. Hers was a voice that seems to echo across a thousand years. After decades of fighting for the preservation of the Gaelic language and its musical tradition, Sorcha decided in the 1950s, that she had failed. She moved to London and remained a virtual recluse until her death in 1976.

But her belief as proved premature. Sorcha's surviving recordings have played and continue to play a major role in Irish traditional music. Among the modern vocalists who have cited Sorcha Ni Ghuarim as a major influence is Roisin Elsafty, a fellow native of the Connemara.

This 1955 recording is of her singing "The Blackthorn Bush", a Gaelic love song from Ireland. One of Sorcha's last recordings before leaving for London, it never ceases to give me goosebumps.

Sorcha once summarized the song as follows, "A young man used to visit a fair in a certain place and he met a young girl there and they fell in love. Then, the fairs were discontinued and they did not see each other again until the night of his wedding feast. She came to the wedding feast dressed as a Traveller woman. She put the ring he had given her in the glass when he was giving her a drink. At this point he recognized her and they composed the song between them"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqGs_NkFcJQ

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December 17th, 2014A Nod To Distributismby Kevin Kennelly

Does Small Is Beautiful still work? Luke Johnson believes so ....and probably anyone who has had to interact with a "call center" or a government office (can you say Health Care) this Advent season does also. Modern life has become madness. Mr. Johnson ,in a recent issue of the Financial Times , suspects there is a better way and that such way  happily should appeal to capitalist  and socialist alike ..... and most everyone in between.

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/41e69528-8469-11e4-bae9-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3MAtDL3fC

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December 17th, 2014Flora MacNeil, the Voice of Gaelic Scotlandby Brendan D. King

Flora MacNeil, OBE, (born 1928) is probably the greatest Scottish Gaelic vocalist ever recorded. A native of the Isle of Barra in the Hebrides, she was first discovered and recorded in 1951 by American musicologist Alan Lomax, who was then attempting to document the folk music tradition of Europe. She played an enormous role in the Scottish folk music revival of the 50's and 60's and continues to have an enormous influence upon more recent vocalists like her daughter Maggie MacInnes, Capercaillie's Karen Matheson, and, most recently, Julie Fowlis. Despite being in her eighties, Flora continues to perform publicly and is regarded as a national treasure.

The recording below dates from Flora's vocal prime in the 1950's is one of "The Big Songs" as they are called in Gaelic. It is a lament composed by the wife of William Chisholm of Strathglass, who was killed in action while bearing the standard for the Chisholm Clan during the Jacobite Uprising of 1745.

In the lament, his wife rebukes Prince Charles Edward Stuart, saying that his cause has left her desolate. She then expresses her devastation at the loss of her beloved and names every quality which she loved about her husband.

To those who love Celtic music and who are curious how it sounds in its traditional form, I present the following:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DvFEkL78H8

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December 17th, 2014Old England in New Englandby Joseph Pearce

One of the most rumbustious and rambunctious evenings that I've enjoyed in many a year was at the founding meeting of the Chesterton Society of the Abenaki Lands during one of my regular visits to New Hampshire to teach at Thomas More College. I am, therefore, honoured to be a founding member of this irrepressible and quirkily quixotic band of brothers. The GKCSAL, as it is known acronymically, has now gone live on the American Chesterton Society's website. Those wishing to know more about this band of brothers, who are truly Menalive in the full Chesterbellocian sense, should check out the link:   

http://www.chesterton.org/location/g-k-chesterton-society-abenaki-lands/

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December 17th, 2014Elves, Hobbits and Menby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

I just saw one of the very best things EWTN has ever done.

"Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: Elves, Hobbits and Men", hosted by Joseph Pearce and featuring yours truly as J. R. R. Tolkien, with artwork by Jef Murray, directed by Michael Masny, is a brilliant production.  Sadly, if you didn't catch it or record it yesterday, Dec. 16, when it aired, you'll apparently have to wait until the DVDs come out, as it's not scheduled to be rerun any time soon.

In this special, Joseph Pearce analyzes the Catholic elements of The Lord of the Rings, Jef Murray's illustrations add a wonderful visual flair, the photography is breathtaking, the CGI work very well done, and I even manage to pull off a better acting performance than usual.

All in all, this is a great special - and very profound, spiritual and uplifting as well.

 

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December 16th, 2014Class Reunions and Adventby Dena Hunt

This past summer I got in touch with a childhood friend from the eighth grade. (That’s a very long time ago!) Since she didn’t live far away, I drove up to see her and have lunch together. We had great fun reminiscing about that time. I didn’t graduate with her class because I moved away after that year, but I will definitely go to their class reunion next spring. The year I spent in that little country town was one of the happiest years in memory.

But I’m almost afraid to go to the reunion, not because I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed in the people I see there—how we’ve aged and changed—but because of all I hear and read about reunions in general. Specifically, old scores that demand to be settled, old humiliations that must be atoned for, old competitions still unconceded; the awful desire some people have to get even, to triumph, and even a kind of macabre desire to see how age has changed those we might have envied—as though we actually want to see some people brought down, as though we want to see some beauty queen become old and wrinkled, or some football hero as a fat and bald old man. Why? Do we imagine it would somehow make us feel better about ourselves by seeing time’s ravages on others?

It makes me wonder: This Advent season, having just left the month of November and Remembrance of our beloved dead, it may be worthwhile to think about such things. Advent starts the new liturgical year, as we wait for the birth of our Lord, in penance, making smooth every roadway, removing the obstacles of sin, the mountainous wounded pride, the dark valleys of meanness of spirit, preparing a way for him in our hearts.

It works as an analogy for me to enter Advent thinking of the coming spring reunion with friends and classmates I knew when life was good and our hearts were innocent. Recently I spent several hours with some other ladies in our church cleaning pews, vacuuming all the nooks and crannies the standard weekly cleaning doesn’t reach. It was actually a lovely time, strange as that may sound, as we complained about children having smeared raisins in our pretty (but light-colored) carpet, wondered how much a professional carpet cleaner would charge the church, and worried about whether mold had accumulated underneath. We were getting ready for Christmas, getting ready for the great miracle of all the ages, the Incarnation of our Lord.

To get ready means that we must remove the dust from the nooks and crannies of the past: We can ask God’s pardon for the wrong we’ve done, but we can’t change what has happened to us, just as we can’t change the way people feel about us, or what they think of us. We can’t change anyone’s heart but our own. There are people who’ve hurt us, people who have used us, rejected us, or somehow humiliated or harmed us. We can’t do anything about that. Of course, our faith tells us that each small bit of suffering is a gift from the Lord, an opportunity to share in his own suffering. Yet we must clean out the poisonous desire to cling to those hurts. Although they are gifts, we may not treasure them, we must let them go and not regard them as measures of our own merit. We may not cling to victimhood as though it were a sign of God’s favor, even if it truly is. If we cling to the experience of being unjustly hurt by others, not only do we continue to experience the hurt, but even worse, we place an obstacle to that which experience is given to teach us: forgiveness and understanding, recognizable only after the experience is past, and these are the milestones in our real mission here in this life—which is learning how to love as God wants us to love. No other achievement really matters. None.

That’s a good way to clean house, a good way to spend our waiting time during Advent, and a good way to think about the reunion to come.

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December 15th, 2014Venerable Songs and Quiet Eveningsby Daniel J. Heisey

Snow fell, and the tea steamed; the clock ticked as the man turned the pages of his book.  Five years ago appeared a new edition of selected poems by Wallace Stevens, and it offers a handsome format for savoring the words of this great poet.  Stevens once described himself as “a dried-up Presbyterian,” and there is some controversy whether on his deathbed he converted to Catholicism.  For appreciating his poetry, however, that question has no bearing.

Stevens (1879-1955) was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and following undergraduate work at Harvard, he studied at New York Law School.  After posts with the American Bonding Company and the Equitable Surety Company, he took a job in the fidelity and surety claims office of a new firm in Connecticut, the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company.  There he stayed, retiring as a vice president.  His life as a poet tended to occur after hours:  as he walked to work, words formed in his mind, flowed around and assembled themselves; upon returning home to his white gabled house, he went to his desk and began to write.

During his lifetime, his seven volumes of verse, as well as his Collected Poems (1954), received much acclaim.  He was honored with the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, two National Book Awards, an honorary degree from Harvard, and a Pulitzer Prize.  He also has the distinction of having expressed his frustration with Ernest Hemingway by breaking his fist on Hemingway’s jaw.  For all the critical praise for and scholarly analysis of his writing, there seems never to have been the sort of enthusiastic outpouring of admiration for Stevens that has attended his younger contemporary, T. S. Eliot.

Stevens’ hundreds of poems have evocative titles:  “Tea at the Palaz of Hoon,” “Sea Surface Full of Clouds,” “The Man with the Blue Guitar,” “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” “Vacancy in the Park.”  “To an Old Philosopher in Rome” pays tribute to Stevens’ professor, George Santayana, who had retired to Rome, and “The Doctor of Geneva” might be about John Calvin.  Stevens’ roots in eastern Pennsylvania influenced “The Bed of Old John Zeller,” Zeller having been an ancestor of Stevens, and “The Countryman” is about the Swatara Creek, a meandering tributary of the Susquehanna River.

As with Eliot, religious sensibility or sensitivity pervades Stevens’ poems, fascination with the real and ideal intersecting.  Elegant and enigmatic, Stevens’ poems frequently defy easy quotation; it is hard to lift one of his lines and make it into an epigram.  To pick a poem more or less at random, “Late Hymn from the Myrrh-Mountain” could stand alongside anything by Eliot, although here and there Stevens can be more obscure.

“Already the green bird of summer has flown/Away.  The night-flies acknowledge these planets,/Predestined to this night, this noise and the place/Of summer.  Tomorrow will look like today,/Will appear like it.”  It concludes, “Take the diamonds from your hair and lay them down./The deer-grass is thin.  The timothy is brown./The shadow of an external world comes near.”  These impressions of late summer nights, musings on the passing of time, allude to spiritual elements, hymns and myrrh and mountains.

Consider also “God is Good.  It is a Beautiful Night.”  Again we are immersed in themes composing Stevens’ poetic world:  birds, night, music, delicate order created by God.  “Look round, brown moon, brown bird, as you rise to fly,/Look round at the head and zither/On the ground.”  Next comes more exhortation:  “Look round you as you start to rise, brown moon,/At the book and the shoe, the rotted rose/At the door.”  Always in Stevens one finds the fragility of life, the decaying edges and details of which man has not got round to pruning and tidying up.

“In your light,” the poet tells the brown moon, “the head is speaking.  It reads the book./It becomes the scholar again, seeking celestial/Rendezvous.”  That man reading his book at night is being creative:  “Picking thin music on the rustiest string,/Squeezing the reddest fragrance from the stump/Of summer.”

For Stevens, the conflict within the intellectual life, the inner life, is between harmony and brute force.  Squeezing from a stump contrasts with picking out a tune on a stringed instrument, perhaps a zither, perhaps the Psalmist’s lyre and harp, perhaps the blue guitar of Picasso.  Meanwhile, the reader encounters the phenomenon of synaesthesia, where one sense triggers another, as here, where a fragrance is seen as red.

“The venerable song,” begins the last stanza, “falls from your fiery wings./The song of the great space of your age pierces/The fresh night.”  Layers of meaning, of possible meaning, unfold within a poem by Stevens.  His poems require silent meditation, and apparently Stevens required it as well.  In 1951 he wrote to a fellow poet, “It may become necessary sooner or later to emigrate to some region where there are no radios, newspapers, etc., and where the natural man can be himself, saying his prayers in the dark without fear of being slugged.”

Stevens’ poems often conjure well-bred, suburban concerns, solitude that can become loneliness, fine sitting rooms where the paint has begun to fade and the petals are falling from an arrangement of flowers.  “The aunts in Pasadena,” we read in “Of Hartford in a Purple Light,” “remembering,/Abhor the plaster of the western horses,/Souvenirs of museums.”  Purple light is ambiguous, variously masculine or feminine, kingly or lady-like.  “What is this purple, this parasol,/This stage-light of the Opera?”  That purple light is silken or velvety, yet there is another kind.

“See the river, the railroad, the cathedral,” we are beckoned, “When male light fell on the naked back/Of the town, the river, the railroad were clear./Now, every muscle slops away.”  The purple of parasols and opera houses now gives way to the purple of dusk, of bruised shadows falling over the weary town after a long day’s life-draining work.

Professor John N. Serio, also editor of The Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens, produced this excellent edition.  This selection draws one in deeper, so that, as in “The Reader,” one can sit all night “reading a book,/ . . . as if in a book/Of somber pages.”  Once within that world, once imagined into the book, “The somber pages bore no print/Except the trace of burning stars/In the frosty heaven.”

 

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

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December 12th, 2014Join Me on the Pilgrimage to Englandby Joseph Pearce

For those who might be interested, there’s still room on the Pilgrimage that I am leading with Fr. Dwight Longenecker to England next summer. Over a ten day period, we will follow in the footsteps of the English Martyrs, visiting priest holes and places where the English Martyrs were imprisoned and put to death. We will also be visiting places of Catholic literary interest connected with Shakespeare, Tolkien, Lewis, Belloc and Chesterton. Father Dwight and I will give talks on the bus journeys between the sites. The registration deadline is February 28 with the final payment due by March 31. For more details phone (800) 290-3876 or visit www.catholicheritagetours.com/ACFC.

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December 12th, 2014What Is “What-Is”?by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



Here's something Flannery O'Connor said,

"What the fiction writer will discover, if he discovers anything at all, is that he himself cannot move or mold reality in the interests of abstract truth.  The writer learns, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what-is.  What-is is all he has to do with; the concrete is his medium; and he will realize eventually that fiction can transcend its limitations only by staying within them."


The "concrete" is the spiritual embodied.  "What-is" is the consequential, the actual limitations of reality around us, not the Unreal make-believe that we think we can get away with living in.

But we religious folk don't usually understand that.  We think religion is a fine feeling we get on a Sunday, or a certain thrill we feel watching "Matthew Kelly on a headset" (as a friend of mine puts it).  Christopher West might make a tingle run up our leg, but his version of Theology of the Body has nothing to do with the ups and downs of sacramental marriage as it actually exists and is lived out day to day.



Much of my life story (which I will be writing) has to do with my coming to terms with this what-is.  Much of my life story has been a story of traveling from Unreality to Reality, out of shadows and images into the truth, as my blog's motto and as Cardinal Newman put it.  This is a hard thing for anyone, especially for anyone who makes his living off of his imagination, as I do, to understand.

But if Unreality is a way of describing the Anatomy of Sin, then What-is is a way of describing the shocking Presence of God in our midst.  What-is is the source of humility and wonder.  What-is shows us the Judgment that is present even in time.  What-is is the key to sanity, to all right philosophy, and to the Incarnation.

What-is is the Cross of Christ.

But what is what-is?

Here are three of many possible examples.

  • A suburban couple lives beyond their means.  Their creditors start to harass them.  They demand as much as 33% interest per year from the couple on their credit card debt, which is equal to or more than their annual income.  The couple struggles to keep up.  Eventually they either have to go bankrupt, downsize, or settle for a fraction of what they owe.  The Unreality is the bubble, the treadmill, the panic of trying to satisfy creditors with make-believe money, with money that isn't there are never will be.  The reality is what-is.

  • The homosexual agenda is pushed in the world and in the Church for decades.  You befriend a young homosexual and are shocked to discover that his "same sex attraction" is not something that is limited to his bedroom activities (or to his public bathroom or highway rest stop activities) but is a symptom of a broader psychology that colors everything he does, making him a very difficult person to trust and relate to.  You have no idea why this should be, and you assume there's something wrong with you and that you're being "judgmental" - but, dammit, that's what-is - and you deny it at your peril.  Sex is never segregated from the wholeness of who we are as persons, physically or spiritually - and, even though the whole world and most of the Catholic Church now denies it, that's what-is.

  • You want to provide for your family and make a name for yourself in your chosen field.  You work non-stop 80 hour weeks and you finally have a heart attack or a "nervous breakdown".  Your kids don't know you, your wife is neurotic, and the porn you've been using to ease the pain no longer helps.  Welcome to what-is.

There are some forms of art that tell stories that are Lies, stories that deny what-is and that prop up what-isn't.  This kind of shallow propaganda is never recognized as great art, or even as good art.  For good art entails grappling with what-is.  And so does true Faith.

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December 10th, 2014A New Tolkien Special on EWTNby Joseph Pearce

EWTN will be broadcasting a new special on the Catholicity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings this week! It will air on Dec 14 at 9pm and Dec 16 at 5pm! Hope many of you can watch it! As with the earlier Tolkien specials, I have written and presented it, with invaluable help from StAR’s writer-in-residence, Jef Murray, and StAR columnist, Kevin O’Brien. The hour-long special includes many of Jef’s paintings and sketches and features the acting talents of Kevin. It’s not to be missed!

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December 9th, 2014An Essay in Cyber Spaceby Joseph Pearce

As a self-professed techno-minimalist and a self-confessed technoramus, I don’t normally write anything exclusively for the e-market (if writing for blogs such as this one or the Imaginative Conservative are conveniently excluded). I have, however, contributed an essay for an eBook published by Homeschool Connections, for which I teach on-line classes. My essay, which is entitled “Why I Should Learn Shakespeare”, is one of many excellent essays in this excellent guide for homeschooling parents and students.

The PDF version of the eBook will be available for free download beginning December 15th. The Kindle version will be available the following month.

The link to the eBook webpage is http://homeschoolconnectionsonline.com/free-ebook. For now, people can download a sample chapter and sign up to be notified upon the eBook's release. There are also some reviews posted -- all great reviews so far. 

Additionally, to celebrate the eBook's release, Homeschool Connections is hosting a Kindle Fire Giveaway: http://homeschoolconnectionsonline.blogspot.com/2014/12/free-kindle-fire-giveaway.html.

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December 9th, 2014Utopia versus Myopiaby Joseph Pearce

What is utopia? The question is asked and hopefully answered in my latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/12/utopia-versus-myopia.html

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December 7th, 2014Jesus vs. the Dragon Sicknessby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org


"The dragon sickness serves the same purpose in The Hobbit as the Ring serves in The Lord of the Rings. It represents the addictive attraction of sin and its destructive consequences, best summarized in an understanding that the thing possessed possesses the possessor -- or, as the Gospel says, where our treasure is, there our heart will be also (Matthew 6:21)." - Joseph Pearce on the "Dragon Sickness"


So what is the Dragon Sickness?  It's that place that we guard and cherish, that secret and comfortable thing that we hoard in darkness - even though doing so turns us into miserable dragons, the way the ring turns Smeagol into Gollum.  It's the sickness that the Divine Physician addresses - if we let Him (which, I'm sorry to say, we usually don't).

Consider the following examples of otherwise good Christians acting like selfish dragons, of good Christians (like you and me) getting the sickness (like you and me).  I have changed the names, but the stories are all true ...

  • Veronica and her husband have three kids.  He is transferred to another city, 500 miles away.  She refuses to move with him, claiming that she won't upset her kids' lives by pulling them out of the school they're going to and away from their grandparents, who live a few blocks away.  Her husband tries to get a local job, but can't find one that pays what Veronica wants him to make, which is the salary he is making at his current job, which is now located in another city, the city to which he's been transferred, the city to which his wife, Veronica, refuses to move.  So the husband transfers, sends home his paycheck (minus what he spends to keep an apartment in the new city) and visits the family back home in St. Louis every other weekend.  The couple is de facto divorced, and this has been going on for twelve years.  The children have largely grown up not knowing their father.  Veronica considers herself a good Catholic.  She goes to Mass regularly and volunteers at the Church.  She does not consider her decision to be selfish or the least bit sinful.  She has the sickness.  She's hoarding, and it's killing her.

  • Amy and her boyfriend have been dating for over three years.  Being good Catholics, they haven't have sex.  But he won't propose to her, and not having sex with Amy hasn't motivated him to do so.  She doesn't seem to want to admit that there's a problem, as she won't date outside her metaphoric zip code, so she's made up her mind to stick with the situation and pour good money after bad, so to speak - for the boyfriend is (you guessed it) a Devout Catholic.  She does not consider this decision to be imprudent, selfish, pusillanimous or craven; she's doubling down on this choice, even though he may never come through.  In all other areas, she is extremely serious about her Faith, but the reality of her Faith does not penetrate to the heart of who she is, at least not when it comes to the most important thing in her life.  The Divine Physician wants to treat this sickness, and though she's happy to oblige Him in many other ways, she won't let Him go there.  She's hoarding and it's killing her.  She's going to have it her way, even if she can't have it her way.

  • Justin is not happy in his marriage.  He knows he could improve things if he put his mind to it and dealt with the hard and challenging business at hand.  He and his wife have a good foundation of love and trust, but he's letting it slide.  It's easier to.  He has formed a string of pseudo-intimacies, mostly with women he's met online.  These relationships generally burn themselves out, with a lot of pain and anguish along the way.  He always ends up finding himself in a position where he is living more for these virtual wives than for his real wife - but he's not committing physical adultery, and he is a very devout Catholic who prides himself on how much he's studied his Faith, so he thinks he's OK - but the vacancy at the heart of his home life is not something he wants to look at.  He does not see his substitute relationships as sinful.  As much as he loves God and the Catholic Faith, it doesn't sink in, doesn't penetrate to the heart of who he is and what he cares most about in life.  These substitute wives, these virtual affairs, are what he treasures and hoards.  The Dragon Sickness is killing him.

I could go on.

So could all of you.  And of course we see these specks in our neighbors' eyes, but not the planks in our own.  We can tell when another has the fever, but we can't assess our own temperature.

But whether we see it in others or we see it in ourselves, the fact remains: we almost never allow the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit in to the place that's most special to us.  We guard our secret spot.  "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Mat. 6:21)

Like Smaug the Dragon, we guard our treasure, we shut it up, along with our heart, and meanwhile the One who can cure us stands at the door and patiently knocks.  

Advent is the time of His coming.  But He's not only coming, He's been here.  We may be Waiting for Godot, or even Waiting for Godot to Leave, but Jesus Christ has been here all along, knocking for quite some time.  But He doesn't want a quick handshake in the foyer.  He wants to be admitted to the most precious and hidden part of your heart.  He wants you to spend the thing you've been hoarding and give up the Dragon Sickness.

Stop guarding your sin.  Repent and let Him break down the wall.

Let Him at your treasure.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Rev. 3:20)



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December 7th, 2014Ursula Le Guin at the 65th Annual National Book Awardsby Dena Hunt

This 85-year-old writer accepted an award for her distinguished contribution to American Letters and made a brief speech that apparently brought the house down. Here’s a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/11/20/365434149/book-news-ursula-k-le-guin-steals-the-show-at-the-national-book-awards#

And here’s an excerpt of NPR’s report that gives an idea about the nature of her remarks:

She reserved her most incendiary language for the recently resolved pricing dispute between Amazon and the publisher Hachette Book Group.

"We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa," she said. "And I see a lot of us, the producers, accepting this — letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant!"

And she had more to say, much more, even though her speech was very brief. (You can click the link for a video.)

It made me think of a line in an email from my 87-year-old cousin: Don’t mess with old people. We don’t have time to waste on nonsense.

In a recent conversation with a much-younger writer friend, he pointed out (unnecessarily) that publishing is a business and a business must make a profit. Verily. I get that. But I’ll never forget a Catholic publisher’s reason for rejecting my first novel, Treason: It has a prostitute in it, and he was concerned about offending his Catholic market. The novel was eventually published by someone else (Sophia) and won Best Religious Fiction of 2014 from Independent Publishers Association.

And I remember sitting between two publishers having a drink at a bar (sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?) as they bartered my contract—in my presence. I felt like a slave on market day. Was I invisible to them? No—just irrelevant. They were both devout Catholic publishers.

But then, on the other hand, neither will I forget the Catholic publisher (Full Quiver) of my second novel, The Lion’s Heart, who didn’t hesitate to publish a novel about a same-sex love affair. I was very happy to find out recently that the book topped all the others on their current list for sales.

Integrity matters. Freedom matters. Perhaps it matters more to writers than to publishers, who often seem to think that freedom matters only if it’s marketable. In any case, Le Guin’s speech made me think about such things. It’s rare to hear someone say such things out loud, without fear of being accused of being a prima donna. Maybe you just shouldn’t mess with old people.

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December 7th, 2014The Wheels Are Coming Off the Sexual Revolutionby Kevin Kennelly

I don't know why but ....in the public sphere .....it often happens that an issue suddenly reaches "escape velocity."  Everyone is now talking about the unfortunate results deriving from the much ballyhooed sexual revolution . Such revolution has now reached middle age having been floating around since the Age of Aquarius , roughly 50 years ago.

The results are manifest and .....mirabile dictu.....they are not advantageous to either males or the fairer sex. Unhappy women, sissified men, a surplus of sexual energy  , a deficit of sexual energy , violent sexual energy ...all manner of unhappiness abounds . "The Wheels Come Off The Sexual Revolution" by David French is apt.

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/393794/wheels-are-coming-sexual-revolution-david-french

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December 7th, 2014Moths, Flames, and Loveby Dena Hunt

I once had an uncle who was a very hard-working truck driver, taking extra runs to support his family. He went away for days at a time and returned home to a wife and four daughters whose lives were interrupted by his returns. He slept when he was at home and the wife and children had to keep quiet, couldn’t play in the house, couldn’t watch television—because the television was in the room next to his bedroom. When he was gone, they made their own lives without their father, going to school, enjoying social activities with their friends, and so on. My aunt never worked, so she involved herself in her daughters’ lives, kept house, and watched TV.

My uncle had a very domineering personality and a mercurial temperament, which he’d inherited from his own father, and he’d married a woman very much like his own mother. Some women are attracted to domineering men. There is a kind of female sexuality that is drawn to such men, like moths drawn to flames. But it goes beyond sexuality; there is a symbiosis there, strange as it may appear to an outsider, on which both the moth and the flame depend for their sense of identity and psychic security.

The flame warms and illumines, identifying and locating all in its light, thus giving them their names and places. They circle about the flame, knowing themselves by their relationship to it. Their dependence on the flame is apparent—to the flame, to themselves, and to any outsider who may observe. What is not so obvious are the times when the flame may grow weary, and when it does, the moths become anxious, circle the flame and fan it back to brightness, often against its own will to burn.  Thus, the dependence of the flame on the moths is every bit as great as their own dependence, though it’s apparent to no one (except perhaps an outsider).  Said my uncle on one occasion when he and his wife were resuming their symbiosis (“marriage”) after a troubling break, “I never notice when she’s here—but I notice when she’s not.” He believed that was love, just as she believed her irresistible attraction to him was love. The pattern repeated itself, resulting in occasional minor violence—mostly shouting or throwing things—through separations, even through divorce and remarriage, and then divorce again.

When my uncle was roused from sleep, he’d throw the clock across the room, bellow at his wife for waking him, scaring everybody, and (though she’d never admit it) titillating her. I watched my aunt in fascination. Everything about my uncle was open, visible, nothing hidden. With my aunt—not so. Sipping a glass of tea at the kitchen table, talking quietly as her husband slept, my aunt sometimes revealed depths of resentment that passed anger and arrived at hatred. As a child, I didn’t like my uncle, but I wasn’t afraid of him. I didn’t like my aunt either, but she scared me half to death.

Eventually, they entered a final divorce. My aunt married a stable, dependable man who owned a restaurant and gave her the financial security she craved. My uncle “took up with” a woman who was independent, having worked all her life, and she took no hollering nonsense from him. I think both my aunt and my uncle were, each of them, a little in awe of their respective second mates. My uncle was amazed, and then grateful, that he did not frighten his lady friend and ultimately came to discover that her lack of submissive fear did not diminish his manhood. My aunt was simply dependent, financially and emotionally, on her new husband, though she continued to blame my uncle for any unhappiness she suffered. And she taught her daughters to do the same.

Tragically, my uncle’s daughters abandoned him after the divorce. He could have lived with the loss of his marriage, but the loss of his children’s love broke his heart.

I went to see him a year or so before he died. The “flame” had gone out of him. There was a grief that had never really left him, but his acceptance of it had given him a kind of peace. I liked him, and I pitied him from my heart. He died of cancer, in pain and suffering, and in the arms of his lady friend, very much like the child he really was.

My aunt lived a long life after the death of her second husband, in the security of the house he had provided for her, and in the security of her attendant daughters, who became increasingly resentful of that dependence, and so, eventually, in the nursing home where they placed her. I went to visit her a few months before her death. She spoke of my uncle as though she had forgiven him, crediting the long survival of his relationship with his lady friend to the lady’s ability to “stand up to him,” without acknowledging any love that might have been between them. Actually, I think she understood love as a language of power, and that had been the cause of all her sorrow.

I have wondered how well either of them ever understood themselves, each other—or the passion they called love. Watching them as a child, I learned that the light and dark sides of our hearts are not always what they seem. We know how a flame can destroy a moth but not so much about how a moth may destroy a flame, and yet I know well that it did: I never knew my four cousins very well, only by sight and name. I met them again after a separation of many years when they drove down here to rural Georgia for my uncle’s funeral. After the brief service, they descended on the little place in the woods where my uncle had lived his last years, looking for the valuable assets they believed he’d hidden from them. I sat in the Waffle House with my uncle’s lady, drinking coffee and watching as they took off on the back roads for his primitive little dwelling. My uncle’s lady wept into a paper napkin, “I’m so grateful he’s not here to see this.” They weren’t gone long. Disappointed, angry, and confused, they’d found nothing, and so they got back into big, expensive cars and drove back to Atlanta, empty-handed.

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December 6th, 2014The Day I Divorced Facebook the Hussyby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



"Doctor, I'm in a dysfunctional relationship."

"Tell me about it."

"She's abusive to me and I can't trust her."

"What's the woman's name?"

"Facebook."



"Facebook?  Facebook is the woman's name?"

"Facebook.  She's a hussy.  I've written about her before, Facebook the Hussy."

"So what is the nature of the relationship?"

"She lies, she cheats on me, she hits me, I blow up at her.  And then I leave her and she woos me back again and tells me she's sorry and she'll never do it again.  And for a month or so everything's perfect.  And the sex is great.  And then I notice she's been lying, she's been cheating on me.  I confront her, she hits me, I blow up at her.  And we start the cycle all over again."

"But ... Facebook is not a woman.  Facebook is a thing."

"Look, Doc.  She's a woman, and a shallow and bitter one at that."

"Perhaps I should prescribe some ... medication?"

"No, listen!  When I first joined Facebook, I had a few friends, actors who worked for me.  Facebook looked at her algorithm and decided that I ought be be friends with my friends' friends.  But my friends' friends were all losers and drug addicts.  She kept throwing pictures up at me of losers and drug addicts.  She wanted me to "friend" these people, to have relationships with them.  I should have known then that she didn't care for me.  She did not have my best interests at heart."

"You actually had actors as friends?"

"It was foolish, I know.  And then one of them publicly complained about me (by posting on Facebook) and all of our mutual actor friends left comments consoling her and agreeing with her, so I unfriended the whole damn lot of them then and there."

"I see.  So this rage of yours ... "

"I'm not finished.  I swore off the Hussy at that point.  But we worked out our differences and got back together - or so I thought.  We had a deal.  No more actor friends.  Only Super-Catholic friends."

"Oh, my."

"I know!  I know!  That also had disaster written all over it!  Posts on novenas and devotions and all that Catholic stuff - I had hundreds of friends, and they were all Super-Catholics, fans of my EWTN work, fans of theology and saints.  Then one day I put up a post quoting from the Catechism and I got over 140 comments - all disagreeing with the Catechism.  With the freaking Catechism of the Catholic Church!  A ton of Super-Catholic friends were furious that I had quoted from it because they disagreed with it."

"So ... "

"So I broke up with Facebook again.  But I began to miss her - the smile, the laugh, the great sex."

"Continue."

"Then I compromised.  We'd get back together, but I would 'unfollow' all but about a dozen of my friends.  I simply would not see the posts of all of these whackos who were bringing me down.  And I'd do my best to ignore their comments on my posts."

"How did that go?"

"Fine for a month or two.  It was our second honeymoon.  But then I noticed something."

"What?"

"I couldn't keep my promise to stay out of the fray.  I started getting sucked in to pointless arguments in the comments to posts that I was putting up, posts that linked to my blog.  People wouldn't comment on my blog posts at my blog site, they'd comment on Facebook.  I'd respond to their comments, and then they'd rip into me and lecture me about how judgmental I am or how naive I am or how arrogant I am."

"But you really are all those things."

"I know, but that was beside the point!  I was trying to discuss issues or insights I'd had about spiritual matters or stuff like that.  I'd be attacked personally as a way to discredit the argument I'd be making, as a way of short circuiting any genuine intellectual engagement."

"Did you say, 'genuine intellectual engagement'?  This is the internet, you fool!  You really are nuts!"

"So finally, after about a dozen times back and forth, I've had it.  I'm giving her up for Advent - and for good."

"That's a bit extreme, wouldn't you say?"

"No, Facebook the Hussy is extreme.  Maybe not for everyone - though I've seen her hurt many of my friends, who not only become addicted to her, but who form intensely intimate so-called relationships with members of the opposite sex who are not their husbands or wives.  That sort of thing has happened to me as well, and it's devastating in every conceivable way.  It's a trap, you know."

"It's not a trap.  It's technology.  Technology is neutral."

"Technology is far from neutral, doctor.  Take the microphone, for example.  The microphone changed singing from stage-singing to crooner-singing, bringing in a whole different kind of music, revolutionizing the culture, for better or worse.  The automobile brings the benefits of quick transportation along with the burden of suburban sprawl and a kind of isolationism.  No technology is neutral."

"But it's not the technology's fault.  It's our fault."

"I agree.  But certain kinds of technology facilitate certain kinds of reactions.  The internet allows us to connect instantaneously with far away friends, but it also allows us to access unlimited pornography in the privacy of our bedrooms, the kind of pornography that only the most degraded of perverts were aware of fifty years ago.  Humans have always had the potential to find soul mates in far flung places, and humans have always had the potential to give themselves over to hard core porn.  The internet has facilitated both by the very nature of what the internet is.  Certain kinds of technology facilitate certain kinds of responses in us.  So perhaps you could say technology is neutral, but our use of technology never is.  Technology provides grooves that are more conducive to certain kinds of behavior and not conducive to others."

"But getting back to Facebook ... "

"The Hussy provides a false sense of intimacy.  Facebook friends are not real friends, as a rule.  Oh, maybe if you stick with sharing photos and videos of kittens, you're OK.  But beyond that, you'll find that Facebook friends will drive you crazy."

"Real friends can drive you crazy, too.  In the real world."

"Yes, but there's a humanity there that's lacking in Facebook.  For one thing, no real friend in real life would say the kinds of things many Facebook false friends are emboldened to say with their keyboards.  And for another, things like smiles, laughter (not LOL cyber laughter, but real laughter), tone of voice - all of the give and take you get when you're with a real friend in real life - these things bring warmth and context, these things convey humanity and real affection, or sometimes real frustration.  That's because real friendships exist in a real web - not a "world wide web", but the kind of web that's like a fine silk or a gauze, connecting people in a frail and fine and delicate way, just like a spider's web.  There's a finesse to real life relationships, a give and take, a kind of gauze that cushions much of what we do with one another and that operates on many levels in many subtle ways at once."

"So, to use an analogy ... "

"To use an analogy, Facebook is like a garish daytime talk show with celebrity hosts and insipid guests - too loud, too stupid, too contrived, too self-absorbed.  Real life is like the novels of Henry James."

"Well, maybe you've made the right decision - at least for you, at least for now."

"It's not a decision, doctor.  It's a deliverance."

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December 4th, 2014Sex and the Virus that Makes Us Madby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org


Babylon was a gold cup in the LORD's hand, making the whole earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore, the nations go mad.  (Jer. 51:7)


It's like a virus, this thing.  It infects you.  We drink of the wine of Babylon and we go mad.  We don't just get drunk, we go mad.



One of the symptoms of the virus that we've caught from drinking Babylon's wine is a peculiar kind of madness that no people on earth have ever been victim of.  Many who have drained this cup become convinced that sex is just something physical you do with your genitals.  And nothing more.

Which is madness.

For every person who's ever lived (until recently) understands that sex is more than just a neutral physical act, like walking or jogging or scratching or urinating.  Every person who's ever lived understands that sex is spiritual, emotional, awesome, terrifying, exhilarating.

My wife, at least, understands this.  Gentlemen, all of our wives understand this.  If I were to tell my wife that I shook hands with the lady next door, she would be mildly amused.  If I told her that I shook something else with the lady next door, she would not be mildly amused.  She'd be furious.

But if sex is just a neutral physical act, which means nothing, which signifies nothing, which connects with nothing, then what's all the fuss?  There should be no fuss, argue the Inconsequentialists, the heretics of our age.  And some of them are Catholic.

Only mad men in a very mad time could admire the Catholic Church as a beautiful and thrilling and living thing, but smile a kind of condescending smirk when the Church tells us that sex is a gift and a burden direct from God Himself and that we arrogate it to our own use at our eternal peril, jeopardizing the dignity of every man, woman and child around us.

Only that virus that comes from Babylon's cup could have achieved this.

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December 3rd, 2014The Painter of the Popesby Joseph Pearce

I'm delighted that the interview that I did with the great Russian artist, Igor Babailov, has been published by the National Catholic Register, not once but twice! In October it was published in the web edition and last week it was published in the print edition. The latter was shorter because of space constraints in the print edition. Here are the links to both versions:

 

http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/painter-of-the-popes

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/painter-of-the-popes

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December 2nd, 2014Pearce in the Pacific North Westby Joseph Pearce

I've been travelling more than ever in recent months but keep forgetting to announce my destinations on the Ink Desk. Recent weeks have seen me in Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas and Minnesota. This week I'm going to be in Washington State and Idaho. On Thursday evening, I'm giving a talk on the Catholicism of Middle-Earth at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. On the following afternoon, I'll be telling my own conversion story to the Socratic Club at Gonzaga. Both events are open to the public and I hope that anyone in the area reading this post will try to join me. On Saturday, I'm giving a talk at St. Dominic's Priory in Post Falls ID on "Roads to Rome from Newman to Tolkien".  

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December 2nd, 2014The Lord of the World and the Chariot of the Agesby Joseph Pearce

A friend has recently followed my suggestion that he should read R. H. Benson's dystopian classic Lord of the World. Having done so, he's written to me of the prescience with which Benson foresees the rise of the democratic demagogue and the apparent triumph of the secular fundamentalism that he preaches. Here is my response:

 

It is prescient indeed but we must avoid the temptation to despair, which is a grave sin. The Church is continually being declared dead in every generation only to be resurrected in the next. She is always on the brink of collapse (or so it seems) but She never collapses. Empires, countries, ideologies, philosophies, heresies and dominions have passed away but the Church has not passed away. The gates of hell have not prevailed! 

As usual, Chesterton says it best:

“It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”

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December 1st, 2014Father Marquette’s Heroic Virtueby Daniel J. Heisey

In the December, 1984, issue of American Heritage magazine, historical novelist Walter D. Edmonds wrote that he wished he had been present on 18 May, 1675, when Father Jacques Marquette, S. J., breathed his last.  Edmonds (1903-1998) had an eye for the dramatic moment:  In 1936 he secured his literary reputation with Drums along the Mohawk, a novel that sold almost as many copies as that year’s runaway best-seller, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.  Like her novel of the American Civil War, Edmonds’, about the American Revolution, became in 1939 a major motion picture, in this case one that was directed by John Ford and that starred Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert.

As Edmonds noted, at the time of his death Marquette had been working as a missionary among the Indians of what is now Michigan, and on Easter Sunday of 1675, he had celebrated Mass with some five thousand of them present.  Not all those assembled were Christian, but all held the priest in high regard, even reverence.  All knew that the austere, balding young man (he was thirty-seven), so selfless and brave, was gravely ill.

When Marquette died, another Frenchman followed Marquette’s final instructions and rang a hand bell.  “I wish I might have been there,” Edmonds wrote, “to hear those small and lonely notes.”  To his way of thinking, the ringing of that bell “marked the end of the most spiritual and also down-to-earth of all the Jesuit missionaries,” and all can agree that those words aptly describe Marquette, although one hopes they applied to others as well.

Yet puzzling is the further importance Edmonds gave to the melancholy ringing of that bell.  According to him, it also marked “the end of a simplicity and faith that were not to be reborn in America.”  Throughout the history of religion in North America, one finds ample simplicity, the Shakers and the Trappists being among the best known examples, and, whether one can quantify any individual person’s faith, in simply objective terms, Marquette’s faith, the Catholic faith that inspired such great Jesuits as Saint Ignatius Loyola and Saint Francis Xavier, remains a vital feature of life in Canada and the United States.

Still, Edmonds was right to focus on the death of Marquette as a compelling and significant moment.  While no one seems to have made a dramatic film about Marquette and his daring travels, there is Black Robe (1991), based on an excellent novel of that name from 1985 by an Irish-Canadian writer, Brian Moore.  Set thirty years before Marquette arrived in New France, modern Canada, it brilliantly evoked the starkly beautiful and often hostile world in which Marquette and the other seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries to North America worked.

Whether anyone has achieved Marquette’s level or depth of faith, it is worth considering his spiritual life.  Two of the more readable accounts of Marquette’s life that remain in print are Francis Parkman’s LaSalle and the Discovery of the Great West, first published in 1869, and August Derleth’s Father Marquette and the Great Rivers, first published in 1955.  Both works shed light on Marquette’s spirituality, Parkman in a dozen or so pages, Derleth in more than a hundred.

Parkman was a Boston Brahmin and a Protestant, Derleth a Catholic from Wisconsin.  In his stately prose, Parkman gave matter-of-fact accounts of Marquette’s holiness and of a miracle attributed to him, while Derleth supplied the imagination with descriptions of Marquette’s explorations of the Mississippi and some of its northern its tributaries.  Derleth aimed his brief, often fictionalized text, at nine to fifteen year-olds sixty years ago, but it nevertheless appeals also to older readers today.  Parkman provided the reader with another missionary among many, Derleth with an intrepid hero.

For there is a “boy’s history” element to Marquette’s missionary work, the hardships of leaving home for a foreign land combining with the perils of exploring a harsh wilderness populated with wild animals and shrewd natives not guaranteed to be friendly.  To put the tale in some historical context, one should keep in mind that by the time of Marquette’s death, his slightly younger contemporary, William Penn, had yet to sail for North America.  For an American boy reading Derleth’s little book, part of the thrill is in learning that these adventures occurred in the American middle West; facing danger for Christ could happen close to home.

Along with a pioneering Franciscan missionary to California, Junípero Serra, since beatified, Marquette stands immortalized in marble in Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol.  All the same, Marquette undertook his role as explorer because of his calling to be a missionary in an uncharted land.  His physical adventures served his adventures of the spirit.

“He was a devout votary of the Virgin Mary,” wrote Parkman, “who, imagined to his mind in shapes of the most transcendent loveliness, . . . was to him the object of an adoration not unmingled with a sentiment of chivalrous devotion.”  Parkman added that under her care, “his gentle and noble nature knew no fear,” and “for her he burned to dare and to suffer, discover new lands and conquer new realms to her sway.”  In keeping with this allusion to a knight errant and his lady, Marquette’s character was sterling:  No bullying or arrogance, no sexual misconduct or financial chicanery.

In a footnote, Parkman record that, “The contemporary Relation tells us that a miracle took place at the burial of Marquette.”  Parkman noted that one of the Frenchmen present, “overcome with grief and colic,” pressed some of the soil from the grave “to the seat of pain” and was at once healed.

Marquette’s physical courage went hand in hand with his humility.  Moreover, his diplomatic dealings with the various Indian tribes he encountered bear witness to his prudence and charity.  As a priest of the Jesuit society, he drew strength from his prayers, especially the Mass, and the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.

Whether enduring the elements with his fellow Frenchmen or smoking a peace pipe with Indian leaders, Marquette radiated inner balance and serenity.  As Edmonds put it, Marquette was a “most spiritual and down-to-earth” man, and he abides as a model for all Catholics, and others as well, of virtue, self-sacrifice, and sanctity.

 

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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December 1st, 2014Immortal Longings and the Human Soulby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



Our souls have been flattened.  And we don't even realize it.


Here is a two-minute clip of Dr. David Allen White giving a fantastic lecture on Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.  What he says is so important that I'll even transcribe it for you below (my emphasis in bold) ...

This is [Cleopatra's] death speech.  "Give me my robe, put on my crown".  She's dying how?  As a queen!  OK?  She's going out in glory.  This is not Antony falling on his sword and mucking it up.  This is prepared, staged, deliberate, glorious, queenly, transcendent.  "Give me my robe, put on my crown.  I have immortal longings in me."
And there the word ["immortal"] is again.  It may mean either I have longings in me such as those immortal gods and goddesses do; I am like them, or I have longings in me for immortality.  I am now going to join the immortals.  The longing for immortality is in every one of us.  
We are currently in a very sad situation because those yearnings for immortality are still in us and no one believes in an after-life.  Since we worship in the temple of science at the end of the Age of Reason, we believe in flesh and blood and nature, period, and there's nothing beyond it.  You die; you're dead; the end.  This is in contradiction to what every civilized order has believed since the dawn of time.  We are the first people ever ... who think, "No, there's nothing.  You die.  You're dead."  
And yet the immortal longings show up now in bizarre ways.  It's the reason everybody is writing a screenplay, or wants to be a poet, or is writing a novel.  It's because, "I know there's something in me that should not die and go down to the dust," and therefore what the last two hundred years have said is immortality comes through great art, or making a great contribution to the world.  "I will cure cancer!  I will finally put an end to hunger!  I will go to Africa and cure AIDS!  And then I will be immortal!"  And all of our immortal longings are somehow encapsulated, made into minute little earthly desires.  This play shows real immortal longings and is smashing through the boundaries.

Dr. White's two-part lecture on this play brilliantly shows how it "smashes through the boundaries" in its verse, in its themes, in its very structure.  Click here to order the entire lecture series.  It's well worth it.

But compare what Dr. White says (and what William Shakespeare says) about "immortal longings" with what you hear at a typical suburban Mass.  In fact, let me tell you what I heard tonight.  It was not a bad homily.  But it was all about how in Advent we prepare to meet Jesus by making things better here and now.  Be kind, help those in need, Jesus was nice, you be nice, too - that sort of thing.  Others have called this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  I call it Inconsequentialism.   It's not wrong as far as it goes, but it's not fully Catholic, because it's a heresy, a tiny slice of what we believe, cut from the fullness of the faith.

We believe - or we should believe - that the here and now is dependent on something far greater. We believe that the immediate is informed by the transcendent.  This moment hangs upon eternity.  Our deepest longings are not for Marty Haugen music and banal art and architecture; not for glib and dull homilies that amount to mere platitudes; not for lukewarm benevolence and climate controlled comfort.  Our longings are for what Chesterton calls the "four lost notes", which we can almost hear, which we can almost play on our guitars, we poets, but which always somehow elude us, which are always more beautiful and mysterious than anything we have managed to sing yet.

Rod Dreher writes of a quality of Dante's Divine Comedy that he calls metaphysical realism.  He sees this quality in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but not (currently) in the Catholic Church.  What I take that phrase to mean is the belief that metaphysical things are real.   We're not Christians because we need an excuse to be nice to one another; we are Christians because we believe that Jesus is God and that we are destined for an eternal existence that is more awesome and terrifying than the blurry Unreality we have built for ourselves in our artificial lives where there is no such thing as gender, human nature, sin, or anything consequential, anything of consequence.  It's all much more tremendous than that - much more real than that.

In fact, let me be so bold as to say every word of our Faith is true - even the parts so many of us find "embarrassing" - the angels, the demons, Mary, the saints, the sacraments, the Second Coming (which every homily I've ever heard describes as the most harmless and lame experience you can imagine) - but what is most vividly real, more than anything else, is the power of the Cross.  And, since it's all true, it is a crime to dumb down the worship of God and to live insipid lives with flattened souls.  And some of the flattest souls you'll find around you belong to Christians.  We have become salt without savor, bland and inoffensive - hardly signs of contradiction to the much more lively and provocative world around us.  Our destiny, then, is to "trampled underfoot" (Mat. 5:13).

Elsewhere, Dr. White (our Shakespeare scholar) describes his conversion (again, my emphasis).

Now my student who had challenged me in class had converted about six months before I did. He had not been a Catholic either; he was simply an honest mind seeking the truth. He had walked into a Catholic Church and said to the priest, "I want to become a Catholic." It wasn't long before this young man was battling with the priest who was supposed to be giving instruction, because the priest was presenting a whole series of new ideas in a new way. This brilliant young man was rightly challenging these new ideas, saying to the priest, "No, Father, the Church teaches this...".
So you now had a convert instructing the priest in the Faith. My friend did not want me to go through that experience. He went all around the Philadelphia area until he found an elderly Irish Monsignor, out in one of the suburbs, who had the Faith. So once a week, I would take the train to go out there and receive real instruction from a priest who had the Catholic Faith. It was a great blessing.


It's sad and funny and tragic all at once.  We have come to a time when you can't assume that a Catholic priest (or for that matter a Catholic bishop) "has the Catholic Faith".  You all know what I mean.

And you all know this, what Dr. White experienced after joining the Church, when he began attending Mass at his local parish ...

Suddenly, I walked into something that looked just like the empty Protestant service I had left when I was seventeen. I'd been there, I'd seen it, I knew it. I thought, what is this? This can't be what I've joined, this can't be what it's about. Two thousand years can't have come to this! I've already rejected this. 


Of course the answer is not reverent liturgy alone.  But whether we're talking liturgy or art or music or any other great thing - and especially when we're talking love, the aspect of love called Eros (that face of love that makes Catholics extremely uncomfortable) - we are not made for safety, comfort, mere contentment, constraint.

We are made - God has made us - to "o'erflow the measure".  Antony & Cleopatra - sinners that they were - "overflowed the measure", and something mysterious and glorious is revealed to us in their story.

***

Here's another clip of Dr. White.  It's a brilliant description of the challenge facing Benedick in Much Ado about Nothing (a part I played over 30 years ago).  Dr. White shows how the "Kill Claudio" scene is a stirring call to manhood.  And he gives a tip of the hat to Dante and "metaphysical realism" in the process.

These lectures are great because Shakespeare is great because God is great.  May we, this Advent, at the very least stop shunning greatness.



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November 30th, 2014Muddle-Heads and the Middle Agesby Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative tackles muddle-headed modernism and its ignorance and arrogance, comparing it with the Middle Ages:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/11/muddle-heads-middle-ages.html

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November 28th, 2014“Affection at a Distance” vs. the Point of the Piercing of Christby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



There is nothing cheaper than affection at a distance.

We can love the poor, as long as we don't have to deal with them up close.  We can love our neighbor, as long as he stays on his side of the privacy fence.

And we can love God as long as He's not among us, as long as He's up there in heaven minding His own business and letting us show Him the cheapest of all of our charades, the shameful sham of "affection at a distance".  And if you don't know what that kind of false display looks like, go to most suburban Masses, where we're all busy congratulating ourselves on how wonderfully we love this God that we refuse to learn the first thing about, this God who can't make demands on us and who can't love us to the point of changing us because we've made sure we've kept Him so very far way.

And don't for a minute think that Devout Catholics are incapable of this.  In fact, for many Devout Catholics, our very Devotion is an elaborate exercise at keeping the Spirit at bay.

We see this a lot with Theater of the Word Incorporated, this insulting display of "affection at a distance".  "Oh, we absolutely love the work you do, but there's no way we can pay you to do it.  It's so important, this work that you're doing, but of course we don't want you at our parish.  I'm so glad you're doing a pro-life play, but it's not the kind of thing we think an audience will actually watch, you understand."

In fact, I've known parents who "love" their children so much they ship them off to boarding schools, day cares, even residential treatment facilities, simply to keep them out of their hair.  Like C & E Catholics, who only go to Mass on Christmas and Easter, there are a ton of C & E parents out there, who keep a very safe distance from the mess of engaging in the lives of their sons and daughters.

So, as I say, there is nothing cheaper than "affection at a distance".

And yet ... and yet ... we ought to tremble.  For Scripture addresses this very issue.

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Rev. 1:7)
And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” (John 19:37)


St. John is referring to an Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah, which itself echoes a lamentation in the Psalms, both of which mysteriously refer to a suffering servant "pierced" by the unrighteous, who at some mysterious time are forced to gaze in astonishment at the damage they have done, at the "piercing" they have been a party to.  This prophecy is literally fulfilled at the crucifixion, when the hands and feet of our Lord are publicly pierced and displayed, and when His side is pierced for all to see by a lance after His death.  It's also fulfilled figuratively in the "piercing" of the heart of Jesus and His mother by our sins and by His suffering.

In fact, when the infant Jesus is presented at the temple, this figurative piercing is not only prophesied again, but is put into context by Simeon the Prophet ...

"Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed [spoken against, contradicted] -- and a sword will pierce even your own soul-- to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:34-35)


The piercing, then, penetrates not only the flesh of Jesus and the hearts of Jesus and Mary, but penetrates our own hearts as well.  The "end", the "point" of this piercing, of this penetration, is the revelation of our own hearts.  And it is indeed a penetrating experience.

For this is not only a one-time event, it happens at the end of the age, it happens when Christ returns and the present creation crumbles away.

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.


We are glib about this Second Coming.  Jesus, we are told, is a cool dude, and though His Second Coming will be the Last Judgment, He's not judgmental or anything like that.  We'll all get into heaven, after all, won't we?  We are all people of good intentions.

But we are not people of good intentions.  We are traitors.  We screw our neighbors every day, even our close friends, even our spouses, for trivial reasons - for convenience, for advantage, for comfort.  We do horrible things to one another and we keep telling ourselves that everything's OK because we all have the best of intentions.  We all "mean well".

But there will come a moment for each of us - a moment of horror and shame - a moment when we will beg the mountains and the hills to fall on us and hide us (Rev. 6:16, Hos. 10:8, Luke 23:30), a moment when we will look on Him whom we have pierced.  And we will wail on account of Him.

For in His wounds, we will see what we have done.

***

May we, therefore, celebrate this Thanksgiving and this liturgical year to come by repenting of our false and easy "affection at a distance", by seeing the damage we are doing, the lie we are leading.  May we have the courage to say "Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20) and may we flee the false comforts of whatever man-made consolations we are using to shield ourselves from the God whose one glance - filled with an affection that's not at at distance, that's intimate and burning - will reveal (perhaps to our shame) the hidden secrets of our hearts.


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November 26th, 2014Shakespeare: Another Jesuit Connectionby Joseph Pearce

One of the exciting things about studying Shakespeare is that it's akin to a detective story in which one is always finding new clues connecting the Bard of Avon to the Catholic Church. The latest clue to emerge is the discovery of an early Shakespeare manuscript that was owned by a Catholic recusant connected with the Jesuits. Read on:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/11/26/the-discovery-of-this-shakespeare-first-folio-fuels-one-of-the-great-shakespearean-controversies/

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November 25th, 2014Conferences, Performances and Events in 2015by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

In addition to the murder mystery dinner theater shows, which I perform somewhere in the U.S. every weekend, you can catch me doing things that are a bit more dignified, such as ...

***

The St. Louis Marian Conference, Jan. 9 - 11, 2015.  I'll be speaking on Bl. John Henry Newman.  Also at the conference will be Dale Ahlquist of the American Chesterton Society and Deacon Jack Sullivan, the recipient of the official miracle that led to Newman's Beatification.

Frank C. Turner as John Henry Newman and me as Bl. Dominic Barberi at Littlemore, Newman's retreat in England.


***

In March, Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce, Chuck Chalberg, Brian Daigle and I will be featured at the First Ever Louisiana Chesterton Conference, to be held at Chesterton Square in Ponchatoula, Louisiana.  

Here's a two-minute video promoting the event that's well worth watching.




***

In April, my Theater of the Word actors and I will be appearing with Joseph Pearce at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee as the Center for Faith and Culture hosts its first ever Shakespeare Festival.  We will be performing scenes from Hamlet, as explicated by Joseph Pearce on April 25.

Theater of the Word actors in a scene from The Quest for Shakespeare on EWTN.


***

In September, Joseph Pearce and I will be appearing at the Rochester Chesterton Conference in Rochester, NY as well as at the first ever Inklings Conference in Nashville at the Center for Faith and Culture.  I will be appearing as J.R.R. Tolkien lecturing on Fairy Stories.  I'll provide more details as we get closer.

Me as J.R.R. Tolkien in the Hobbit Hole with author Joseph Pearce.

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November 25th, 2014Think Thanksgiving is a Puritan holiday?by Dena Hunt

Think Thanksgiving is a Puritan holiday? Actually, it’s Catholic:


(Here’s a short video on how Catholic Squanto saved Thanksgiving.)

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November 25th, 2014Francis Thompson: Hounded by Heavenby Joseph Pearce

The great Victorian poet Francis Thompson has always been a favourite of mine. I named one of the chapters of my biography of Oscar Wilde "Hounded by Heaven" to illustrate the parallels between Wilde's flight from God and that of Thompson, whose own flight is recorded in his wonderful poem, "The Hound of Heaven", lines from which served as the epigraph to the Wilde chapter. Last week, I was delighted to be able to host "An Evening with Francis Thompson" at Aquinas College in Nashville, along with those with whom I worked on the film documentary of Thompson, for which I served as historical consultant. I'm delighted to see that the documentary is beginning to receive the attention it deserves in the wider Christian world. Follow this link for more: 

http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/26453

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November 25th, 2014Jorge Luis Borges on Verse Translationby Brendan D. King

During the late 1960s, Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges gave a series of Harvard Lectures about the subject of poetry.

Recordings of the lectures surfaced in the 1990s. They were then transcribed, annotated, and published in 2000 under the title "This Craft of Verse" by Harvard University Press.

In his lecture "Word Music and Translation", Borges argued that the translation of verse should be seen as a collaboration between two poets. As such, a translator should seek to equal or, if possible, surpass the original. He then provides a list of examples which he analyzes in depth.

He cites Lord Tennyson's versification of "The Ode of Brunanburh" from "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle". He describes Tennyson as the first poet to attempt to replicate the Anglo-Saxon strong stress meter in modern English. He also describes the result as a masterpiece and as having passages that are better poetry than the original.

Then, Borges cites the English translations of Saint John of the Cross by Catholic poet Roy Campbell. Borges calls Campbell "a great Scottish poet who is also a South African." He called Campbell's effort "not only a blameless but also a fine translation." He then analyzes Cambpell's translation of "Noche Oscura de Alma". 

In concluding his analysis of Campbell, Borges laments that verse translations are always "felt to be inferior --even though, verbally, the rendering may be as good as the text." Coming from a man who could fluently read, write, and converse in both English and Spanish, this is very high praise  indeed.

Borges then praises many other examples, including Stefan George's German translation of Baudelaire, Mathew Arnold's essay on translating Homer, and Edward Fitzgerald's translation of "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam".

At the end of the lecture, Borges expresses a hope that in the future "men will care for beauty, not for the circumstances of beauty. Then we will have translations not only as good (we have them already) but as famous as Chapman's Homer, as Urquhart's Rabelais, as Pope's Odyssey. I think this is a consummation devoutly to be wished."

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November 25th, 2014The Hobbit Prime Ministerby Daniel J. Heisey

In the published letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, there is a gap between the years 1925 and 1937, and so most of the years when Stanley Baldwin served as Prime Minister are missing.  Although our shelves of Tolkien thus lack the professor’s thoughts about that politician, we do have four volumes of Baldwin’s collected speeches.  From them we can glean what a hobbit gone into Parliament might be like, Tolkien and Baldwin having grown up in the same neck of the woods.

Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947) now gets at best a mediocre press.  He is overshadowed by his great contemporary, Winston Churchill, and Baldwin’s reluctance to re-arm Britain has been damned as criminal failure to prepare against the ravenous National Socialism of Adolf Hitler.  To be fair to Baldwin, he was part of a nation grieving because of the Great War:  John, the only child of his cousin, Rudyard Kipling, had been among the millions killed in the war.

Oft-quoted is his belief, stated in 1936 in a speech to Canadian veterans, “If the dead could come back today, there would be no war.”  Also, in the 1920s and 1930s people across the political spectrum thought that opposing re-armament was the most sensible way to ensure peace.  Fewer weapons meant less chance of using them, or so the thinking went.  Leftists in particular insisted that talk of re-armament benefited only lunatic war-mongers and greedy arms manufacturers.

Whereas Churchill saw himself as the last of the great Cavaliers, Baldwin cultivated a persona of the simple country squire.  While Baldwin appeared reserved and avuncular, behind the curved briar pipe and the ironical smile was the shrewd mind of a successful businessman who for fun read ancient Greek and Latin authors in the original.

He had studied at Cambridge, and he has been the last Prime Minister from that university.  While in office, he served as Chancellor of the University.  He had been one of the first members of the Classical Association, and in 1926 he served as its president, delivering a witty address on his love of the classics.  Upon his retirement as Prime Minister, having carefully navigated the country through the Abdication Crisis, he was made first a Knight of the Garter, then Earl of Bewdley, his home village in Worcestershire.

Part of Baldwin being the kindly country squire was his deep love for the countryside where he had grown up and then made his home.  When he spoke about his shire, Baldwin thought in poetic terms.  “It is an unchanging countryside,” he observed in 1927 in a speech about Worcestershire.  “There is a field near me at home more than a mile long, curving through woods down to the river, which I never enter without feeling that I have stepped back into the days of Chaucer.  It would never surprise me to meet his pilgrims ambling on their palfries over the greensward.”

That landscape had for him other associations with medieval English literature.  Baldwin reminded his audience that William Langland “lay on the slopes of Malvern Hills looking over the vast expanse of forest, and wrote Piers Plowman, and so handed down the ages, in contradistinction to Froissart’s history of the chivalry of that age, the history of our common people, and we learn from him of their patience and their sufferings, and their virtues and their faults.”

Regarding those local common people, Baldwin had endless admiration.  “What shall I say of our people?” he asked in that same speech about his native shire.  “Steadfast and loyal, . . . [w]e are a silent people among strangers.  We do not contradict people.  We are not litigious, and when folks talk about the garden of England being in Kent, we never say anything.  There is no need, because we know that there is but one garden, and that we live in it.  Because we are uncommunicative, people sometimes think we are stupid. . . . We are gifted with apt speech among ourselves.”

In a speech made in 1929, Baldwin spoke again about the people of his shire.  “I learned very early,” he recalled, “that a Worcestershire man cannot be ‘druv’.”  He explained, offering a scene worthy of the likes of Sam Gamgee:  “I well remember what an old driver said to me on the road one day.  When driving some pigs to market, he was experiencing more than the usual difficulty in getting them along the road—it was more than forty years ago and he said to me:  ‘A hard thing to drive many on ’em very is a pig’.”

He added that such stubborn reticence had its advantages.  “We all of us,” he said, “come up from our native shire [to London] quiet folks, silent, not given to wearing our hearts on our sleeves, not confiding in the stranger we meet, never believing a word that is said to us, we have some of the essential qualities for success in politics.”

As much as he enjoyed the privileges and power of Downing Street, his heart was back home.  In that speech from 1929 quoted above, Baldwin evoked scenes now better known from Tolkien’s fiction and the poems of A. E. Housman.  He looked ahead to his declining years, expressing a hope to have “a few peaceful years of life once more in that country in which one was brought up, to look out once more upon those hills, and ultimately to lay one’s bones in that red soil from which one was made, in the full confidence that whatever happens to England, . . . the apple blossom will always blow in the spring; and that there whatsoever is lovely and of good report will be born and will flourish to the world’s end.”

He got his wish.  Despite having to hear harsh criticism of himself and his policies, his retirement was one of quiet days in his old stone country house, long hours of tea and pipe tobacco, a favorite chair and re-reading ancient and English classics.  A devout Anglican, Sundays meant for Baldwin church and the sonorous phrases of his beloved Book of Common Prayer.  Although there is at Westminster Abbey an inscription commemorating him, he and his wife are interred in Worcester cathedral.

 

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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November 24th, 2014Cajun Chestertonby Joseph Pearce

I've just received an excellent promotional video about next spring's Chesterton Conference in Louisiana, at which I'll be speaking alongside Dale Ahlquist, Chuck Chalberg and Kevin O'Brien. The short video is fun to watch, and suitably edifying, even if you are not planning to attend the conference.

Here's the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-flBud6Nno

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November 24th, 2014“The Internationale”, the Anthem of Marxist Revolutionby Brendan D. King

"The Internationale," which may be seen and heard in the footage below, dates from the brief seizure of power by the Paris Commune during the Franco-Prussian War. It has since been translated into scores of languages and adopted as the anthem of militant Marxism, particularly as interpreted by Vladimir Lenin.

 

Nazism teaches that anyone born into the "wrong" race is unworthy of life. To Marxist-Leninists. those born into the "wrong" class, or who disagree with the Party's platform, ideology, or leadership, are viewed in the same way that the Nazis viewed the Jews -- as "Untermenschen". Such "enemies of the people", according to the memoirs of Great Purge perpetrator General Pavel Sudoplatov, are considered to be deserving of nothing but frivolous prosecution on any charge, however outrageous, that can be concocted by the secret police and the prosecutors. As Stalin once said to Milovan Djilas, the methods used are not important but what is gained.

 

Therefore, I find listening to "The Internationale" to be every bit as disturbing an experience as hearing the "Horst-Wessel-Lied" or certain other Nazi songs. Both were used to cover equally atrocious realities  and thus have the ability to make my blood run cold.

 

Furthermore, the large number of people of all ages, races, and walks of life who are enthusiastically singing this horrific song proves the truth of G.K. Chesterton's statement that, when people cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything.

 

May God bless the the countless millions victimized in the name of the Red Banner and may their Memory be Eternal!

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEI_Cd8azBY

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November 24th, 2014What ‘America’s Ratzinger’ would like to ask Pope Francisby Kevin Kennelly

I've always found Cardinal George very bright and.....and in comparison to most American bishops .....orthodox ( if not firm). In the accompanying interview , it is difficult to tell precisely what he is doing but it would appear to be a veiled criticism of Francis. Who among us has not wondered what in the world Francis means at times but then again who am I to judge?

http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2014/11/16/what-americas-ratzinger-would-like-to-ask-pope-francis/

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November 24th, 2014A (True) Thanksgiving Storyby Dena Hunt

It was 1991. I commuted to teach at a high school some 45 miles away, and my car was old, starting to have problems. I had asked the mechanic who kept patching it up to let me know when it was time to worry about actually breaking down for good on the unpopulated roads I had to travel to work, and he’d just told me the week before—Dena, it’s time for a new car. Oh, no! I had no place in my tight budget for a car payment. Moreover, I’d overspent on my credit card and was about 2,000 in debt there. (That’s a big deal for someone on my budget. I could only pay the interest.)

Two bits of necessary background information in order to appreciate what happened next:

First: I have no family. I was rejected as a child by everyone except my mother—a long, painful, and very different story from the one I’m relating here—and for several reasons beyond my control, Thanksgivings and Christmases are often very hard for me. On this Thanksgiving, I’d decided not to stay home alone and feel sorry for myself but to go work in the soup kitchen for the day.

Second: Many years before, around 1977 or 78, my mother found my paternal grandmother. She was living in a little home with her husband on the Suwannee, very old and very afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease. She wanted to meet me. I went. And thereafter I visited her every so often until I joined the faculty of faraway University of New Orleans. When I visited her, it was awkward sometimes and hard to communicate. I never asked embarrassing questions like, Why did you abandon me, or questions about my father or grandfather. I had been raised never to bring up anything that might make someone uncomfortable.

So, anyway, while I was in New Orleans, around 1984, I heard that she had died.

Now fast-forward to Thanksgiving Day in 1991: My car is terminal and I’m in debt (actually, conditions that helped me to avoid self-pity about having no family), and I’m on my way out the door to go work in the soup kitchen for the homeless. The phone rings and I answer it:

Am I Dena Hunt and do I know a Pauline Raney? Yes, I am, and that was my grandmother, who died many years ago.

 

Okay, directly to the point now. It was a private detective who called. He made a living by finding lost heirs. It turned out that, without telling me, my grandmother had taken out a CD jointly in her name and mine. It had been drawing interest for all those years. About 30 days following the detective’s phone call, after sending him certified documents, I received—tax-free—a cashier’s check, exactly enough money to buy a new car, pay off my Visa card, and $50 left over after the detective’s commission.

I bought a new Subaru “Legacy.” It was a station wagon, which turned out to be very good for transporting rescued abused and abandoned dogs to their new homes.

True story. It was Thanksgiving in 1991.  

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November 23rd, 2014Vibrant and Vivacious New Writing on Chesterton, Belloc and Flannery O’Connorby Joseph Pearce

Earlier this month I paid a flying visit to Minnesota to give four talks in a little over 24 hours. I gave talks at a Lutheran church, at Chesterton Academy, at the University of Minnesota, and at the Catholic Cathedral in St. Paul. After the first of the talks, at the Lutheran church in Plymouth, I retired to a local pub/restaurant with the Lutheran pastor, Tim Westermeyer, and his friend Tod Worner, a recent convert to Catholicism who writes regularly for Patheos. Having enjoyed the lively conviviality and enlightening conversation during my visit, I have since discovered Mr. Worner's excellent articles. Here's a sampler of his writing on Chesterton, Belloc and Flannery O'Connor:


http://www.patheos.com/blogs/acatholicthinker/2013/12/old-friends/


http://www.patheos.com/blogs/acatholicthinker/2012/11/finding-my-way-to-orthodoxy/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/acatholicthinker/2014/02/dear-ms-oconnor-on-writing-letters-to-flannery/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/acatholicthinker/2013/10/the-mean-grace-of-flannery-oconnor/

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November 17th, 2014The Sacramental in Tolkienby Joseph Pearce

I’m in receipt of an e-mail from a student working on a thesis on the Sacramental in Tolkien, and what it means to have "Sacramental Vision".    The student requested a list of “any helpful articles, books, quotations, etc. regarding the Sacramental, Imagination, Tolkien or Chesterton, and so on”.

 

Here’s my brief response:

 

I’m at Aquinas College this week so can’t consult my own Tolkien and Chesterton library. Nonetheless, from memory, I would suggest the following:

 

Tree and Leaf by Tolkien contains his seminal essay “On Fairy Stories”, his allegorical short story, “Leaf by Niggle”, and his superb poem “Mythopoeia”. Each of these examines Tolkien’s philosophy of myth which is awash with his understanding of the sacramentality of beauty.

 

Tolkien’s Letters are an invaluable resource.

 

You should read the opening chapters of The Silmarillion.

 

I would suggest my own book, Tolkien: Man & Myth, and the sections on Tolkien in my books Catholic Literary Giants and Beauteous Truth: Faith, Reason, Literature and Culture.

 

I’d also suggest that you read the book of essays that I edited: Tolkien: A Celebration.

 

Ralph Wood’s Gospel According to Tolkien is good as are Purtill’s and Kreeft’s books on Tolkien.

 

As regards Chesterton, the chapter on “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy is indispensable.

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November 17th, 2014The Suburban Parish and the Heresy of Inconsequentialismby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

I have come to a conclusion.  Most Catholics don't believe in God.

At least they don't believe in the Christian God, the God who became man to save us from sin and who died on a cross and rose again, calling us to participate in a life of sacrifice until He comes to call us to participate in his resurrection by raising us bodily from the dead at the Last Judgment, where some will find they've chosen eternal life, others eternal damnation.

Most Catholic instead believe (to quote H. Richard Niebuhr) that ...

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”


***

Today at Mass I walked out during the homily.  I've only done that twice in 14 years as a Catholic, counting today.  It wasn't especially bad, as homilies go, but I realized that it was pointless to stay any longer.  I realized at one point that Whatever religion this man is preaching and these people are celebrating, I'm not in communion with it.  In other words, I was at a putatively Catholic Mass at a so-called Catholic parish, but I was not at a service honoring anything resembling the Catholic God.

It was a parish that I was forced to go to because of time and travel constraints.  It had (as most parishes do) a guitar player singing bad songs very badly and very loudly.  He was quite obviously enthralled with the sound of his voice over the loud speakers.  It was a form of bad performance art, or a kind of narcissism on parade.  I imagine when this man enters into an intimate physical relationship with his wife, his favorite part is hearing himself moan at the moment of climax.  Perhaps he records that moan and listens to it over and over again, admiring the tones and cadences of his marvelous voice.  You know the type.  At any rate, he made me moan at this Mass, that's for sure.

Speaking of sex, before Mass a teen aged girl with a Steubenville T-shirt on ran up to an attractive young man and gave him the Christian Side Hug.  It didn't phase him in the least, but she went away quivering and giddy.  She sang the bad songs out loud with the rock star very loudly, in a pew right up front, swaying and all abuzz.

The homily had one simple message: don't be afraid when Christ comes.  Even if He comes like a thief in the night, even though Scripture warns us of "darkness" and "grinding of teeth", even though "our God is an awesome [fear inspiring] God", we Christians can be confident that "when Christ comes, it will be a good thing."

Not for this guy it won't, as Michelangelo imagines it ...


Not for that guy it won't.  But he only finds that out on the day Christ comes, not at his Suburban Mass.

So what is this weird thing that is happening all over the country, and apparently all over the world?  What is this weird religion that calls itself Catholic?

This is the religion of antichrist, of Christ without the cross.  

Others have called it Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, but that phrase is not only awkward, it's a misnomer.  It is neither Moralistic, Therapeutic, or Deist.

There is nothing Moralistic about the Suburban Parish Mass at all.  Universal salvation is offered to everyone, regardless of your ethical beliefs or practices.  There's nothing Therapeutic going on there, either.  Any good therapist challenges his patient to get better, and not to continue wallowing in his addictions and bad choices; I've never heard any homily or modern hymn do anything like that; we are always affirmed right where we are.  And this whole thing isn't exactly Deism, for there is a personal God in the mix and we do more or less pray to Him, or at least we try to if the music isn't too loud.

So what is this sick and bizarre heresy that we find in the vast majority of Catholic parishes, especially in the suburbs, that we find in Mainline Protestant churches and that the "Progressives" at the Synod on the Family are pushing?  If it's not really Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, what is it?

Belloc called it Modernism, but even he acknowledged that it seemed to be a mixture of all heresies and that it was hard to pin down or define.

I think the best name for it is Inconsequentialism.  

It is the belief that the Consequential does not exist.  None of our choices or actions matters.  Nothing we do will lead to heaven or hell.  Our lives are works of fiction written entirely by our own selves.  God stands back and applauds whatever choice we make, like an indulgent public school Kindergarten teacher.  

And since nothing leads to anything (which is what "inconsequential" means), the culture of this heresy is a kind of parody of the Kingdom of heaven: it's hell on earth, a place that is above all else Unreal.  It is a place where we can choose our own genders, our own doctrines, our own way, our own truth, our own life.  It is a place lacking all judgment, for judgment is the Consequential - and by judgment I mean both the Last Judgment as well as personal judgment or discernment: both God's judgment of us and our own judgment-in-practice, our own decision making day in and day out, our own "tough choices", none of which (we are assured) matters in the least, all of which are Inconsequential.

T. S. Eliot described the effects of what I call Inconsequentialism.  "Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing," he said.  Inconsequentialism is isolating, fragmenting, and atomizing.  


But Inconsequentialists gladly pay that price, for their entire goal is to deny the Cross and everything that the Cross implies: sacrifice, suffering, discipline, decision, death, shame, and sin.  To have Christ without the Cross is their goal.  This, according to Bishop Sheen, was the hallmark of the spirit of antichrist: the denial of the cross in all its forms.

But if your entire philosophy of life is devoted to denying the Consequential (and the Cross is the most emphatic expression of the Consequential), then everything you do - especially your religion - becomes Inconsequential - which is to say, unimportant, minor, meaningless, bland, and ultimately (like the loud guitar music) a form of public masturbation.

Why would any normal human being seek something like this out?  Most of us aren't thrilled with Christian Side Hugs, even when we're teen agers.  I can get better pop psychology watching an Oprah rerun than I'll ever get at a Suburban Mass.  Dr. Phil is more challenging than just about any parish priest you'll come across.  If I want loud pop music, I can pull up good (rather than bad) pop music on my computer and put on headphones.  If I want sex, I don't need to swallow the pervy weirdness of a Christopher West or a Mark Driscoll.  If I want a religious experience, I can sleep in on Sundays and take a walk in the woods and pray in peace and quiet.  Of course, I need the Church for the Sacraments and for infallible teaching on morals and faith, but normal people don't see the value of either, as it's never pointed out to them.

The priest said today in his homily that when Christ comes, "all our desire will be fulfilled".  But the Religion of Inconsequentialism is all about denying the purpose of desire, as well as the purpose of anything.  Desire is just a kind of physical manifestation of sentiment to Inconsequentialists.  Loving a woman, marrying her, forming a family that lasts your entire life, and having a bunch of babies is not the point of normal human desire for an Inconsequentialist.  "Getting off" is.  Sterility is the sole sacrament of the Inconsequential Faith.  "Get off" however you will, but make sure nothing comes of it; make sure there are no Consequences.

And heaven?  It's a big dessert buffet where you can eat all you want and not get fat, not suffer the Consequences.  It's a place where no one ever judges anyone any more, where there is no Judgment built into the nature of Reality, where we are all happily Unreal forever more, where our desires are easily fulfilled because our desires are shallow to begin with.

Who would want a heaven like that, or a faith like that?  Rod Dreher writes of the impending collapse of what I've called the Church of Inconsequentialism (my emphasis in bold and my comments in red ) ...

Sociologist Philip Rieff, in The Triumph of the Therapeutic, observed that institutions die when they can no longer communicate their core values to the next generation in a convincing way. He said this to support his contention (in 1966!) that Christianity was dying in the West, because we Westerners have become hostile to the ascetic spirit that is inextricable from authentic Christianity and has been from the beginning.  [In other words, we have rejected the Cross] As you know, I believe Rieff was right, and that his being right is not something that traditional Christians should take comfort in, except in this one way: a Christianity that does demand something sacrificial from its followers is not only being true to the nature of the religion, but is far more likely to engender the kind of devotion that will endure through the therapeutic dark age. Aside from its radical theological innovations that are impossible to harmonize with Christianity as it was known for its first 1,900 years, Progressive Christianity has fully embraced the therapeutic mindset, in the sense that Rieff means. It is dying because it cannot convince young people to embrace its values within the institutional churches. It can’t be denied that many of the young do accept the social liberalism embraced by the progressive churches, but it also can’t be denied that most of them don’t see why they have to be part of a church to be socially progressive.


In that article, Rod points out that the Last Episcopalian has almost certainly been born.  By the time a baby baptized today in an Episcopal church is 80 years old, the Episcopal church will have ceased to exist, at its present rate of decline. The churches that worship Christ without a Cross, the churches of the Inconsequential are reaping what they have sown.

They are finding that they are Inconsequential indeed.

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November 12th, 2014Little Things Mean a Lotby Dena Hunt

We all know that we make big decisions that determine the course of our lives, like choosing a college major or choosing a mate, perhaps the decision to commit our lives to Christ or to join a church. These are momentous choices; we remember them and probably reflect often, especially as we age, on how they affected our lives.

 

But it’s the little decisions, the ones we might not even notice, that really determine everything. The 23rd psalm is an example. Actually, this psalm has been prayed by literally everyone, whether they’re conscious of it or not, because it’s not a prayer but a choice everyone makes. “I shall not want….” is not merely a line in verse; it’s a decision. To want means to not have. One chooses to want or not to want. It should not be mistaken for, I shall get or not get, achieve or not achieve, but I shall have, or else, I shall not have. The sole action involved is the decision itself. They are mutually exclusive terms and mutually exclusive conditions; therefore, we have to choose between them. We cannot both have and want.

 

Those who choose not to have: They live and die unfulfilled, unsatisfied, discontent. They may even look around their deathbed and see the faces of many who love them, they may die with the knowledge that they’ve contributed to the good of the world. “A life well lived,” a eulogist might say, “He made the world a better place,” all that sort of thing. (The Nobel Peace Prize…?)

 

But it’s not what Christians call “a happy death.” Why? Because it was not a happy life. A life lived in want is not a happy life. The psalmist can walk through the valley of the shadow of death (aka, life) because he has chosen to have and not to want. He made that choice long ago and it determined everything. Though he must sit in the presence of enemies, abstract or concrete, his cup will run over, and when he dies, he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

That may be why the guards in Auschwitz could not kill St. Maximilian Kolbe by starvation. They finally had to inject him with carbolic acid. It’s hard to starve a man who has chosen not to hunger.

 

“I shall not want” is the second line of the 23rd psalm. The first is “The Lord is my Shepherd.” The second line is a choice that will determine all happiness for this life, this death, and this eternity. The choice is a consequence of the first line. Without that first line, a person can be a great achiever, he can be surrounded by those who love him, he can do great things, but the one thing he cannot do—ever—is have.

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November 11th, 2014Contemporary Catholic Fiction Free E-Book Offerby Joseph Pearce

As we're always keen to promote contemporary Catholic literature on the Ink Desk, I thought I'd mention that, for a limited time, Ignatius Press is giving away a free e-book by author T.M. Doran.

The free e-book being given away is Doran's novel, Terrapin. Also included is his new short mystery story, The Linden Murder Case Mystery. This giveaway will only be available until November 24. 

Here is a link about this limited time offer:

http://www.ipnovels.com/blog/2014/11/terrapin-available-as-a-free-e-book 

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November 11th, 2014Two Generals, Three Popesby Daniel J. Heisey

On two successive pages of a recent weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal appeared book reviews of new biographies of two famous generals, Napoleon Bonaparte and George C. Marshall.  The juxtaposition in those pages gives the historian pause for thought.  Each general stands as a symbolic figure, one embodying the worst, the other the best in his respective century.

Napoleon (1769-1821) is admired by his newest biographer, but the dictator who sought to conquer Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula to the Ural Mountains, deserved his exile to a remote island in the South Atlantic.  Marshall (1880-1959), whose new biography apparently tries to cut him down to size, deserved the many honors recognizing his service during war and his peacetime restoration of a Europe ravaged by the war begun by National Socialist Germany.

Both Napoleon and Marshall rose from obscure origins to achieve almost legendary status.  Napoleon was born on his family’s estate on the island of Corsica, Marshall in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Both men were graduates of prestigious military academies and early on distinguished themselves as able administrators.  Napoleon forever nursed the outsider’s desire for entering the inner circle, eager to take any measure to achieve his ambition; Marshall had an old-fashioned Pennsylvanian’s characteristic laconic impatience with nonsense and injustice and was ready to speak his mind even if it cost him a promotion.

Like a cunning yet deranged villain in a James Bond story, Napoleon concocted and carried out a megalomaniacal scheme for world domination.  He could do so by first posing as a champion of democracy, riding in to rescue the poor people oppressed by kings, princes, and bishops.  This promise of a new world order came in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity.  It also came at the points of thousands of bayonets.

A little over a century later, Adolf Hitler began another enslavement of Europe, resistance to which involved the United States.  As Chief of Staff of the Army, General Marshall worked closely with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, their first meeting, however, taking an awkward turn when the glib patrician President rambled on about military strategy and then asked “George” whether he agreed.

Marshall, called by his first name only by his wife, bristled inwardly at this false familiarity and said bluntly that he did not agree and explained why.  Everyone present assumed that Marshall’s career was over.  Instead, although Marshall never laughed at his jokes, Roosevelt grew to depend on Marshall’s austere insights.  When the planned Allied invasion of Normandy needed a commander and Marshall seemed the obvious choice, Roosevelt told him, “I could not sleep at night knowing you were not in Washington.”

Under Roosevelt’s successor, Harry S. Truman, Marshall served first as Secretary of State and then as Secretary of Defense.  In 1947, as Secretary of State, he received an honorary doctorate from Harvard and used the occasion to announce a bold initiative called the European Recovery Program, soon commonly known as the Marshall Plan.  Designed to rebuild the countries of Western Europe devastated by the Second World War, the Marshall Plan was denounced by Communists as a bourgeois plot to prevent the expansion of Soviet hegemony.  Meanwhile, demented alcoholics like Senator Joseph McCarthy denounced Marshall as a Communist agent.

Illustrative of the characters of Napoleon and Marshall is how each man dealt with the Bishop of Rome.  In 1798 Napoleon’s troops occupied the Papal States, declared a new Roman Republic, and deposed Pope Pius VI as head of state, forcing the old man into exile.  Napoleon planned to confine him to Sardinia, but Pius VI’s fragile health delayed that transfer.  The Pope remained a prisoner in a citadel in southern France.

In August, 1799, he died there, aged eighty-one, and in March, 1800, the papal conclave, meeting in Venice, elected Gregorio Cardinal Chiaramonte, a Benedictine monk who had taught theology in Rome.  As Pius VII, he entered Rome, despite French occupation, and in 1801 he negotiated a concordat with Napoleon, who wanted to change his title from First Consul to Emperor.

In 1804 Pius VII traveled to Paris for the imperial coronation:  Since the year 800, Popes had crowned Holy Roman Emperors, so the journey had some precedent.  Once in Paris, Pius VII was given a special seat from which to watch Napoleon crown himself emperor.  Tensions between Pope and Emperor increased, and in 1809 Napoleon arrested Pius VII, eventually moving him from Rome to France and keeping him in custody until 1814.

In contrast, Marshall, though an Episcopalian and a Freemason, sought an audience with Pope Pius XII.  They met at Castel Gandolfo on 19 October, 1948, where Marshall briefed the Pope on what Marshall always called the European Recovery Program, and the Pope expressed his warm appreciation of the Marshall Plan.  In the background, Pius XII’s aides, often cautious to a fault, worried that the Pope’s hour with the American Secretary of State would become part of Communist propaganda against the Church.  Nevertheless, both Marshall and Pius XII knew that a man is measured as much by the enemies he makes as by the friends he keeps.

Marshall’s reticence, capability, and sense of duty had long won him near reverence from both American political parties, although he belonged to neither, and in 1946 he received the Congressional Gold Medal.  His name had become synonymous with virtue and integrity.  In 1948 Time magazine named Marshall its Man of the Year; in 1953, he became the first soldier to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Nearly five decades later, it became known that in 1948 Marshall had opposed Truman on the timing of the United States’ diplomatic recognition of the new State of Israel.  To Marshall, Truman’s calculations derived from cynical courthouse politicking.  Marshall summed up his opposition by telling Truman that if he pursued his timetable, Marshall could not vote for him in that year’s presidential election.  Truman respected candor, even when it contradicted him, and kept Marshall in his Cabinet.

As for Napoleon, his decision to become a latter-day Caesar disillusioned his adoring egalitarian partisans, causing Beethoven to remove the dedication to Napoleon from his Third Symphony, the Eroica.  Moreover, it is telling that in 1904 a lapsed Catholic, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, published a short story in which a plaster bust of Napoleon was used to hide the Black Pearl of the Borgias.

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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November 11th, 2014In These Dark Days, the Church Needs Her Menby Kevin Kennelly

Msgr Charles Pope has written a superb article entitled " In These Dark Days , The Church Needs Her Men To Be Men." If I could wave a magic wand and pick one thing that ( I think) would benefit our society the most it is this: That men go back to being men and women go back to being women. The romance of men and women .....they way they interact, the different strengths and weaknesses they have, the way they look after each other , accept each other's foibles,  take different risks for each other , see the world (somewhat ) differently.....the whole amazing lovable cocktail.....is a great gift of God. It is a gift which makes every day delectable....a mysterious ballet of interaction. And it works. As an aside , I love old time romantic music.....eg As Time Goes By ("woman needs man and man must have his mate .....this no one can deny....") . Look carefully and you will see shades of Genesis in these lyrics....."it is not good for man to be alone..." And conversely, the modern outlook is destroying this great gift. The metrosexual ethos is corrupting maleness. The women who toil in Silicon Valley and put off getting married and having children are ....in the fullness of time....miserable. For a woman, finding a man ( a real man ) to marry is a daunting task....for few are out there. I am rambling here....have you noticed how every ad on TV makes the guys look like fools ? And yes, the whole metrosexual thing is hurting the participation of men at church. They may not realize it but they subconsciously hate the goofy music, the goofy sermons, the goofy wording of prayers, etc . Give them a man's church and they will return. I have seen it.

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November 6th, 2014The Distributism of the Shireby Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative takes up where my recent post on "Tolkien, Belloc and Political Force" left off. As I suspected, it has caused an element of controversy and a good deal of discussion. Read it here:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/11/distributism-shire-political-kinship-tolkien-belloc.html

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November 6th, 2014A New Catholic Revival in the Artsby Joseph Pearce

I am increasingly excited by the signs of a new Catholic Revival in the arts. There are several very gifted novelists writing today and an increasing number of small Catholic publishers willing to publish new Catholic fiction. As a response to this new springtime for Catholic literature, the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, of which I am the Director, has launched the Aquinas Award for Fiction. Apart from fiction, there is also a host of exciting new Catholic poets. We do our best to publish this new verse in the "New Voices" feature in the St. Austin Review and will continue to do so. In addition, Kaufmann Publishing has an impressive catalogue of new volumes of Catholic verse by an exciting new generation of poets.

The new springtime is not limited to literature. In the visual arts, there are many Catholic artists producing work of the finest quality, most notably Igor Babailov, who I recently had the honour of interviewing. Again, as part of our mission to reclaim and revitalize Catholic culture, we continue to feature the work of these artists in the full-colour art feature in each issue.

Nor is music unrepresented in the new revival. The compositions of Michael Kurek are simply superb and I'm honoured that he has agreed to speak about his ballet, Macbeth, at the Center for Faith and Culture's Shakespeare and Christianity Celebration next spring. Apart from Susan Treacy's regular music column in the St. Austin Review, we have featured Kurek's work in our pages and also the work of the wonderful California-based composer, Frank La Rocca. The latter's work is celebrated this week in Catholic World Report:  

http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/3489/in_this_place_in_praise_of_the_music_of_frank_la_rocca.aspx

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November 5th, 2014Agreeing with G. K. Chestertonby Joseph Pearce

A week or so ago I wrote an article for the Imaginative Conservative in which I argued with Chesterton about the nature of the vulgar mob. Feeling a little guilty for disagreeing with the great man, even though I think I'm right and the he is wrong, I have written another article (possibly in penance!) in which I agree with him on the perversity of so-called philanthropy:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/10/man-men-misanthropy-agreeing-g-k-chesterton.html

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November 5th, 2014My Dear Weedrotby Edward Lawrence

Inspired by, and written in honour of, C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters

  My Dear Weedrot,

I’ve been meaning to write to you for some time about the dangers and opportunities presented to us by the Internet. The recent events at the Synod have given me a marvellous and delightful chance to talk about the opportunities. The dangers I will discuss another time.

You will see how much success we’ve had recently in sowing confusion, fear, doubt and despair among the humans. This is, of course, nothing new in itself. But the Internet allows us to magnify these effects in two important ways. Firstly, each and every public utterance of the leaders of the Enemy’s Church is now disseminated around the world in a matter of seconds. This was not always so: in fact, quite the opposite. For much of human history since that Great and Wretched Disaster, only the most serious, the most considered and the most thoughtful of the chief bishop’s sayings reached the ears of the ordinary Catholic. Many of them would go decades or even a lifetime without hearing a word from him. Even during the latter twentieth century, the age of radio and television, it was typically still through the written word that he communicated with the Enemy’s followers, and it was through this medium that they heard from him. This has now changed: every public utterance of his is now not only disseminated, but also analysed, commented on, digested and commented on again.

The second way that the Internet helps us is that, through articles and comments, we can magnify our efforts at creating despair by making one human’s worry affect thousands.

You’ll see here that I’m talking of those humans – happily, now a small minority – who are  not only baptised, but also making a serious effort to follow the Enemy, obey His commands and remain in what they call a ‘state of grace’. I am not concerned in this letter with the broad masses of men who by and large ignore the Enemy. And nor should you be, Wormwood. Your target is your man, and nobody else. We make war on the Enemy to get hold of individuals. What with all the excitement recently over heretic bishops and papal silence, I’m worried you’re making their mistake, and forgetting that it’s individuals we war over. What goes on in the Vatican is the concern of spirits far below us in the Lowerarchy, and you should not concern yourself with it. Your man is your concern, and his eternal soul is your goal. Never forget this.

But Wormwood – my first piece of wisdom is coming up, get ready – make sure he forgets this! You want him to be so concerned by ecclesial politics that it absorbs all his attention. This is good not only because of the effects it produces – anger, rancour, worry, neglect of duty, and so on – but also because all the time he’s brooding over these things, he is neglecting to think about his own soul. You want to exploit this. You want, above all, to wrench his gaze away from his own soul and his own salvation, over which he has complete control, and towards that which he has no control: the Church’s place in the world, or what the chief bishop really thinks about some question or other, or who’s really in control of the Vatican. Or something similar. The point isn’t what you direct it towards: the point is to get it away from himself and his soul.

You need to empathise with him, Wormwood. I know, I know, it’s hard to put yourself in the position of this filthy animal, but try anyway. You, being pure intelligence, can focus yourself all the time on your goal with relative ease. (Sometimes, of course, when I think of Him or Her and their perfections, I’m filled with such terror and despair and confusion that I can’t focus at all for a while – but what I say is generally true.) The human, on the other hand, since he inhabits the world of the senses, can be quite easily distracted by them. He can be easily induced to forget about his soul, simply because (in one sense) he can’t see it. In fact, even without your efforts, the concupiscence that blinds him means it’s a struggle for him to remember it. So exploit this animal nature. Make him think that Vatican politics is something more than the world of flesh which is passing away: inflate the immediate and the temporary in his mind, such that there is no room for the spiritual and the eternal. Make him forget that his salvation isn’t assured, that time spent thinking about politics is time not praying, or going about his duties, or working out his salvation in some other way. Don’t let him realise that your distractions not only keep him from prayer, but retard his disposition towards it.

Stop him from praying, Wormwood. That’s my second priceless pearl of wisdom. You won’t be able to do this immediately, of course. It may take years. But you can begin eroding his faith and confidence in the Enemy now, this very day, and in so doing build habits that are favourable to us. Make sure you remind him about ecclesial politics when he sits down for his prayers. And keep reminding him throughout. In so doing, you will not only (all things being equal) reduce the efficacy of the prayers and the graces he receives, but you’ll even over time be able to increase the unpleasantness he feels about prayer itself.

This is a long term thing (though far shorter than eternity), and you’ll have to be patient. Make his prayers vain, mindless and dead. Fill them with bitterness and rancour towards his superiors. You will, of course, find it much easier if he hasn’t developed the terrible habit of making a deliberate effort to turn his mind towards the Enemy before he prays. And for crying out loud, be subtle about it. If he realises what you’re up to, he’ll ask the Enemy or his Guardian protector for help, and then your efforts will be in vain.

The third point, and it’s so obvious that I don’t know why I’m mentioning it, is to keep him from the sacraments. Especially confession. Every single time he worthily confesses, all our work that we’ve built up to that point is destroyed. Not only that, but the Enemy’s grace is renewed in him, and he receives encouragement, peace and all kinds of other vile things. It is the most terrible thing, Wormwood – our destroyer and our dread. Keep him from confession! Again, if he’s the kind of Catholic I take him to be, you won’t be able to do this all at once. But make his confessions lazy, and bad and hurried. Work towards it. Take the long view. However long it takes, it’s much shorter than eternity.

So, keep him from thinking about his individual soul, keep him from prayer, and keep him from the sacraments. The same methods we’ve always used, just with a different hook: the Internet. But I think that for your man, the first point is most important. Make him forget his soul while keeping it constantly in mind yourself, and the rest will follow.

The individual is what matters, Wormwood! It is miserable and despairing and lost individuals that we seek to populate Hell with. And our means of doing this involve similarly individual methods. Think back to the last great human war of 1939-45. Think of how men at Stalingrad fought street to street, house to house, wall to wall, in their battle to take the city. So it is with us. We want to take every thought, every emotion, every occasion and make sin of it, in our battle to take the soul. But the Enemy acts in the same way, and if you’re not careful, your man will too. Just when you think you’ve beaten him, then like a starving soldier of the Red Army, ammunition gone, he’ll fly at you out of nowhere, lunging at you with fists, teeth and rocks, pummelling and bruising you and leaving you lying in the dust. So keep him from thinking about this, or acting on it. A soldier who constantly questions his generals’ strategy is useless, so keep him constantly questioning the Enemy’s strategy. Keep him concerned with matters of the war that don’t concern him, and that he can do nothing about. (Besides pray– don’t let him do that, of course. The usual tactic is to make them think that one prayer is useless in the grand scheme of things.)

Make him think his own salvation is assured, and that somehow he needs to act to save Christ’s Body as a whole. And then you will have him.

Your affectionate old uncle,

Nick

 

Editor's note: Edward Lawrence is a pen name for one of many creative writers.

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What are your thoughts on the subject?