April 27th, 2015Protestants and Contraceptionby Joseph Pearce

A friend has sent me an article by a Protestant justifying the use of artificial contraception. Although I did not have the time to address the article at length, I though I'd share my general objection to the article's premises:

The idea that everything is permitted unless it's specifically forbidden in Scripture is a little problematic. Communism is not condemned explicitly by scripture, nor is Fascism, nor is eugenics, nor is gay "marriage". Clearly moral theologians are meant to apply Scripture to present-day dilemmas but the Church, which edited the Bible, deciding which books should be admitted into the canon and which excluded, has the authority to address problems that arise as She moves through history as the Bride of Christ and as His Mystical Body (the "one flesh" which is the mystical marriage between Christ and the Church - the Bride and Bridegroom). As such, the Church's definitive teaching on contraception in Humanae vitae and elsewhere is authoritative, which is to say that it speaks with the same authority as the author of Scripture. A failure to understand this and to adhere to it will lead to the chaos of the culture of death, facilitated by the contraceptive mentality which divorces the sexual act from its procreative purpose.



April 27th, 2015How Did We Lose Our Minds?by Joseph Pearce

What is the mind and how did we lose it? This is the question with which I grapple in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/what-is-the-mind-and-how-did-we-lose-it.html



April 26th, 2015The Failure of Anti-Semitismby Dena Hunt

The local university here provides continuing education classes for seniors, sometimes off-campus. Yesterday morning a group of us attended a meeting at the local synagogue, led by a very amiable rabbi. He was friendly, charming, happy to demonstrate a shofar, a tallit, a menorah, and of course, the Torah. The talk inevitably involved “anti-semitism,” as it is commonly called and commonly misnamed, and commonly misunderstood.

A Semite is a racial descendant of peoples from southwest Asia, a race—like Caucasion—which included Hebrews, Phoenicians—and, above all, the Arab peoples. The vast majority of the world’s Jews are European (from both western and eastern Europe). Of course, they come from everywhere, but after two thousand years of living mostly in Europe, they aren’t Semites any more. “Anti-semitism” would be a more accurate term for people who hate, say, Egyptians, Jordanians, etc., than for anyone who hates Jews. Jews are not a race. Nor can they really be defined as followers of a religion—not really. Some Jews practice some form of Judaism; many do not. And lastly, Jews are not a nationality. Many Israelis are not Jewish, and many more Jews are not Israelis. New York has more Jews than the entire Israeli population.

Misnomer as it is, “anti-semitism” is not a form of racism. It is not anti-zionism. It’s just Jew-hating. Period. When people start to discuss, to analyze “anti-semitism,” I think they should first call it what it really is. It’s a hatred for Jews. It’s been analyzed in the past in religious terms (“they killed Christ”), in economic terms (“they secretly control all the world’s banks”), and in a variety of political terms—from Hitler to any given ayatollah today. All analyses are based on irrational falsehoods, deceptions conjured up to cover the real reason, like the current disguise which calls itself “anti-Israel.” The truth is—there is no “cause.” Talking about why is absurd, rather like engaging in some kind of gruesome post-pogrom analysis, designed to excuse it by “understanding” it. No. It’s just hate.

A very long time ago, I attended a discussion at the First Methodist Church in Winter Park led a rabbi friend of mine. It was one of those inter-faith dialogue things. One Methodist asked him, “So—why is it that Jews are hated so much throughout history?” My rabbi friend responded, “Why are you asking me that question?” Exactly. Understanding why Jews are hated is not a question that Jews have to answer.

There is something dark, evil, in the human heart that hates God, that wants to overcome him, triumph over him, be proved superior to him, simply eradicate him. And that is why Jews are hated. They brought us him. We blame them for it. The hate is irrational, and it rears its serpent head when God becomes an impediment, an obstacle, a nuisance, a bother, when he becomes inconvenient to us and to our plans. It surfaces when God becomes tiresome—or when he becomes not righteous enough for us, when he becomes morally inferior to us, and we need to prove ourselves more worthy of worship than he is. It comes when we want to prove that he’s a mere myth, and we’ve simply been tyrannized by fear and superstition. Then we hate the Jew. We drive him out, or perhaps we confine him, restrict his presence among us somehow, but whether we drive him out or confine him, he’s still there. Finally, his being is no longer endurable to us, to our view of reality, our perception of ourselves, and our hatred consumes us utterly. We have to kill him. If we kill him, we can take his place, we will be the chosen ones, we will be the sons of God. And after we’ve killed him, then we beat our breasts, wail in sympathy for ourselves and claim forgiveness as some kind of “right” we think is ours, all the while storing up even more [temporarily] suppressed hatred for him because now he has made us guilty—again.

There is no such thing as “anti-semitism,” and the reason for hating Jews—or Israel—has never had anything to do with politics or economics, and it certainly never had anything to do with “justice.”

aka Shoshanna



April 23rd, 2015Shakespeare’s Sonnet 108by Daniel J. Heisey

Scholars seem to agree that the only sonnet by William Shakespeare with a religious theme is Sonnet 146.  It is the only poem by Shakespeare in the original Oxford Book of Christian Verse (1940), as well as in The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse (1981).  R. S. Thomas included it in The Penguin Book of Religious Verse (1963), and he appears to be the odd man out by also including Sonnet 129.  Likewise, C. S. Lewis, in his volume of The Oxford History of English Literature (1954), observed that Sonnet 146 “is concerned with the tension between the temporal and the eternal and would be appropriate in the mouth of any Christian at any moment.”  However, the same could be said of Sonnet 108.

First, an open mind is in order.  If we encountered Sonnet 108 all by itself, with no attribution to cloud our critical faculties, there would be every reason to read it as a Christian poem.  Sonnet 108, between a topical poem about the Queen Elizabeth I (thus A. L. Rowse) and a personal poem wherein the beloved rose may well be the speaker’s (or the poet’s) wife, apparently follows no pattern or sequence.  Sonnet 108 therefore stands as a work with its own integrity and importance.

While there is strong textual and circumstantial evidence to argue convincingly for Shakespeare’s Catholicism, for our purposes here we can definitely say that whatever else he was, William Shakespeare was a Christian, baptized and buried in Holy Trinity church, Stratford.  How pious or devout he was between those two sacramental points is anyone’s guess.  All the same, in a pervasively Christian culture a man who retired from London back to his home parish in the shires may be reckoned to have been a committed believer.

In 1607, Shakespeare provided for a church funeral for his younger brother, Edmund, also an actor, and The Winter’s Tale (1609) deals not only with the perils of spousal jealousy, but also with the theme of death and resurrection.  Shakespeare’s plays are full of heartfelt prayers and dignified friars.  Moreover, whether Hamlet or Macbeth, his tragic heroes have lives frequently intersecting with the supernatural, and Shakespeare’s comedies, such as Measure for Measure, end with a moral, indeed, biblical, lecture.

There is no reason, of course, to read any of the Sonnets (or any of the plays) as autobiographical.  William Shakespeare was a complex and creative man, able to imagine himself into any number of characters and situations.  For example, is the real Shakespeare to be found in Julius Caesar or in Juliet?

Nevertheless, one can read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 108 objectively as a Christian devotional poem.  If we grant that Shakespeare was a believing, even a practicing, Christian, we would be surprised if in 154 sonnets there were only one with a religious subject.  We would be right to consider the possibility, even the probability, of others.

Commentators in recent years, though, have seen Sonnet 108 as a secular love poem, probably articulating same-sex desire.  Thus, critics from Peter Quennell (1963) to Robert Matz (2008) have tended to interpret the “sweet boy” in line five of Sonnet 108 as a young man, namely the Earl of Southampton, amorously thought of by the poet.  In the 1590s, when he wrote the Sonnets, Shakespeare was turning thirty, whereas Southampton was some ten years younger.

Their unequal ranks in society notwithstanding, Shakespeare could well have had some paternal or fraternal regard for that young earl, his noble patron.  After all, Shakespeare’s brother, Richard, was a year younger than Southampton; Shakespeare’s brother, Edmund, was six years younger.  Nothing requires the earl to be the “sweet boy” of Sonnet 108, any more than the “sweet boy” must refer either to one of Shakespeare’s kid brothers or to his own son, Hamnet, who died in 1596.

The true identity of the “sweet boy” emerges in the sestet.  The speaker, perhaps also the poet, talks of “eternal love” and having “hallowed thy fair name.”  For a Christian, there is only one eternal love, and it will be found in Heaven.  The Christian learns from Scripture that in Heaven there is no marriage, no need to worry about whose spouse is whose if there has been widowing and re-marrying (Mt 22:30).  All will be bound together in ecstatic love, adoring God.

Sonnet 108 is about someone wondering how to express anew a longstanding love.  “What new to speak, what now to register,” the speaker asks, “That I may express my love, or thy dear merit?”  Many a Christian poet has stood “tongue-tied” (a favorite phrase in the Sonnets), wondering how to express either love for the Lord or the Lord’s unspeakable worth.  Here that love is for a “sweet boy” whose “fair name” the speaker has long “hallowed.”  The speaker, alluding to the Lord’s Prayer, is concerned about “eternal love” in a place beyond “the dust and injury of age.”

A parallel to the religious character of Sonnet 108 appears in the shorter poems of a Jesuit martyr, Robert Southwell.  Three years older than Shakespeare, Southwell was arrested for treason in 1592 and executed in 1595.  Southwell was a distant cousin to Shakespeare, and Southwell’s shorter devotional verse shows similar imagery to that found in Sonnet 108.

In particular, Southwell’s poem “The Burning Babe,” despite grotesque images such a title may conjure, is about the Christ child, as are his poems “New Prince, New Pomp” and “Come to Your Heaven, You Heavenly Choirs!”  That last concludes, “If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy/Then flit not from this heavenly boy.”

Taken out of context, Southwell’s “heavenly boy” could seem as camp or homoerotic as Shakespeare’s “sweet boy” could be misread to be.  In context, however, Southwell’s words clearly refer to the baby Jesus, and a fresh and objective look at Shakespeare’s Sonnet 108 would point to the same subject.  Christianity permeating Shakespeare’s world, it could hardly be otherwise.

Of course, at a Christian interpretation of Sonnet 108 (or any other) secular critics will object, preferring to see the Bard as a modern agnostic.  Interest in Shakespeare has endured for four hundred years because, as a great Shakespearean actor, Maurice Evans (1901-1989), observed in his memoirs, each age finds in him “a responsive echo.”  Even four centuries from now, though, Christian readers may still hear an echo of another Christian voice.

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.



April 20th, 2015The Wisdom and Wickedness of Womenby Joseph Pearce

So does the hand that rocks the cradle rule the world? Do well-behaved women make history? All is revealed in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/the-wisdom-and-wickedness-of-women.html

April 20th, 2015Strauss, Voegelin and Conservatismby Joseph Pearce

I am hugely impressed with the erudition of this article by David Corey in the Imaginative Conservatism. It’s sheds light on an area of political philosophy which has been overshadowed by the fogs of ideology.

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/eric-voegelin-leo-strauss-and-american-conservatism.html

April 19th, 2015Book Review: “Romantic Catholics: France’s Postrevolutionary Generation in Search of a Modern Faith”by Stephanie Mann

Romantic Catholics: France’s Postrevolutionary Generation in Search of a Modern Faith

Carol E. Harrison

Cornell University Press: 2014

344 pages; $49.95

978-0-8014-5245-1

Reviewed by: Stephanie A. Mann

After the French Revolution, and through the restoration and fall of both the empires and the monarchy, both constitutional and absolute, Catholicism in France required restoration and revival. Carol E. Harrison offers an overview of a group of lay and clerical Catholic revivalists who wanted to present Catholicism’s answer to the revolutionary turmoil of their era. As the book’s blurb announces, these Romantic Catholics rejected “both the atomizing force of revolutionary liberalism and the increasing intransigence of the church hierarchy”. They sought to demonstrate that the Church should work with the new world order while remaining true to Catholic doctrine and discipline. In her Introduction, Harrison notes the contrast between these Romantic Catholics and the historian Jules Michelet, who both rejected the liberal exultation of the individual and the Catholic Church, because he saw it in opposition to the French national spirit. Michelet, she notes, feared the influence of devout wives on their republican husbands—religious faith transcended national genius and must be avoided.

The laity and clergy Harrison writes about in nineteenth century France also rejected the Cisalpine tendencies of the Church hierarchy before the Revolution and were thoroughly Ultramontane, but then struggled when successive popes rejected their new model for the Church and society to work in freedom while moving away from monarchy toward republican democracy. Harrison structures her book organically, beginning with issues and images of Catholic childhood, through youth, adulthood, and ending in old age and death, highlighting a few of the Catholic Romantics at various stages of their lives throughout the century.

Starting with childhood, Harrison discusses the celebration of First Holy Communion. In the nineteenth century, First Holy Communion held the place that Confirmation holds now in the United States during a child’s life; it was a step toward adulthood. As Harrison depicts the preparation and celebration of First Holy Communion, she notes the importance of children’s literature, especially the novel Le Journal de Marguerite in modeling Catholic childhood, its piety, morality,  and progress toward holiness. By recounting the First Communions of Leopoldine Hugo, Victor Hugo’s daughter, and two other young girls who died young, Harrison notes that the memory of that day, with all its beauty and innocence, was treasured by the parents who lost their children.

Advancing from First Communion to education, Harrison examines the school experiences of the poet Maurice de Guerin at the College Stanislas in Paris, founded by Abbe Claude Rosalie Liautard. She creates a vivid image of this boy’s boarding school where the students developed strong bonds of fraternity. From the College Stanislaus, Guerin joins Lamennais’ all male community at La Chenaie, briefly continuing his studies after deciding that he does not have a religious vocation. Both he and his sister Eugenie wrote poetry, although both of them died before they could publish—friends edited their works, especially Eugenie’s journals, to show her great love and support of her brother in his literary career, thwarted by his early death at age 29.

Continuing the exploration of Lamennais’ project for the Church to be the ally of modern culture with its emphasis on freedom and social justice, Harrison then writes about Charles de Montalembert and his great friend, Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire, who restored the Dominican order in France in 1850. As the three men wrote and published for L’Avenir they found themselves more and more in conflict with the French hierarchy and then with Pope Gregory XVI. They faced the crucial test of their Ultramontanist views—what do you do when the authority you have sworn obedience to tells you to stop what you think is most important for modern culture and the Church? Montalembert and Lacordaire submitted to the pope’s instructions,  but Lamennais could not.

Perhaps the most fascinating chapter is “Pauline Craven’s Holy Family: Writing the Modern Saint” as Harrison describes how Pauline Craven wrote her family’s story of suffering and holiness, telling how her brother and sisters died in a powerful and popular memoir, Le Recit d’une soeur.  Readers wrote to Pauline telling her how much her memoir moved them, encouraged them to be better Catholics, and led them to pray for the same holy and happy deaths she depicts. Harrison even notes the connection to St. Therese of Lisieux’s L’Histoire d’une ame—the emphasis on holiness in the family, in simple everyday life combined with simplicity of expression and lack of literary pretense.

My favorite chapter, however, was “Frédéric and Amélie Ozanam: Charity, Marriage, and the Catholic Social” with Harrison’s examination of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam’s great charitable project, The Society of St.  Vincent de Paul, the lay organization dedicated to charity and contact with the poor. Harrison shows how Ozanam rejected philanthropy with its emphasis on analyzing and solving social ills and instead gathered young men in associations to visit the poor, to help people directly since part of the purpose of The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was to save the soul of the young men, to increase their love of the poor and thus of Jesus, and grow in humility and faith, as well to serve the poor.

Harrison also describes Ozanam’s great conversion to the virtues of Marriage: he had thought that marriage would call him and other men in the Society away from their work with the poor. When he marries Amélie Soulacroix he realizes that marriage and the family are the true basis of society, that husband and wife can support each other in their efforts to love and serve the poor. Harrison picks up the Lamennain project of establishing a Catholic society with a discussion of how Ozanam opposed the legalization of divorce because of its effects on women, children, and men, creating autonomous individuals and breaking down social bonds. Ozanam dies before he can finish his great work—an answer to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Civilisation au Ve siècle. Amélie Ozanam dedicated the rest of her life to her husband’s cause, making sure his achievements and goals were not forgotten—and she was surely rewarded by Frédéric Ozanam’s beatification by Pope St. John Paul II in Paris at Notre Dame in 1997 during World Youth Day celebrations.

The final chapter is about French Catholic reaction to the crisis of the temporal sovereignty of the papacy in the midst of the Italian Risorgimento. While they supported Italian independence, they feared for the liberty of the Church. Craven and Montalembert struggled with their ultramontane beliefs, even as Papal Infallibility was defined as a doctrine at the First Vatican Council. Once again, with Pope Pius IX, they see their great Romantic Catholic project rejected—and Montalembert even experiences personal rejection after death when Pope Pius IX cancels his scheduled funeral Mass and moves it to another church without any announcement. As the last surviving member of the Romantic generation in Harrison’s study,  Pauline Craven is uncomfortable living in the new Rome of the “prisoner of the Vatican”.

Harrison concludes her study with the examination of two fictions: the sequel to Le Journal de Marguerite and the political interference of Empress Eugenie (who was the object of slurs and attacks as Marie Antoinette had been).  She summarizes her book by asserting the importance of understanding the Romantic Catholic movement:

Restoring romantic Catholics to the story of modern France reminds us that French women and men of the postrevolutionary period saw possibilities other than inflexible church-state conflict. These children of the nineteenth century believed that Catholicism was a model for a society that aspired to be more than an aggregation of atomized individuals. They were eager to demonstrate that Christians tied indissolubly to each other by sacramental bonds constituted a more resilient society than liberal individuals who might occasionally and temporarily enter into contracts with one another. They believed that they could offer this lesson to their fellow French men and women, and their willingness to engage with French society as a whole was the hallmark of Catholic romanticism. Romantic confidence in a dynamic, modern religious faith was not merely a strategy to protect Catholic communities by isolating them from the rest of society and defending them from the rise of secularism.

Although the Catholic romantics Harrison describes were disappointed in the failure of their projects, she notes that they were vindicated by Pope Leo XIII’s pontificate, with his great vision of “a political and social agenda that engaged the church with modern republicanism and the social question”, summarized in Rerum Novarum (1891) . Romantic Catholics is a very important study of Catholics in nineteenth century France—I highly recommend it as well written,  imaginatively structured, and sympathetic to the historical figures and their cause.



April 15th, 2015Perils of Ironyby Daniel J. Heisey

“What a miserable little snob Henry James is,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt to a friend in June of 1894.  Roosevelt had just read James’ short story “The Death of the Lion” in the April issue of a new periodical called The Yellow Book.  “His polished, pointless, uninteresting stories,” Roosevelt continued, “about the upper social classes of England make one blush to think that he was once an American.”  As an antidote, Roosevelt read something by an Englishman then living in Vermont:  “I turned to a story of [Rudyard] Kipling’s with the feeling of getting into fresh, healthy, out-of-doors life.”

Roosevelt seems to have been a stranger to irony, a deficiency for which Americans have been stereotyped.  What caused his outburst was James turning his gift for irony on himself:  the dying lion of the story is an aging author admired by all the best people, but they have no time in their busy social calendars to read his books.  As the old literary giant lies on his deathbed, no one in the stately old house can find the lone manuscript of his latest (and last) book that one of them had borrowed, although everyone is sure it must be brilliant.

Just as all Roosevelt could see in the story was an English country house populated with pompous aristocrats, many people today seem to think that Henry James’ stories are all about flower arrangements and antique furniture.  Merchant-Ivory’s lush film adaptations of three of James’ novels have helped create that impression, distracting from the two key elements in all James’ fiction, greed and manipulation.  Often an instrument in those machinations is sexual energy, and here the reader is left to find the lewd scene in, to take but one example, The Spoils of Poynton (1897).

Roosevelt was right about James being an expatriate.  Although born in New York City, James spent much of his boyhood abroad.  In 1875 James, at age thirty-two, moved to Europe, staying in Paris and Venice before settling in London and then in the English village of Rye.  In 1915, near the end of his life, James became a British subject, and early the next year King George V bestowed upon him the Order of Merit.

Still, Roosevelt apparently had forgotten James’ stories set in America.  One of the best known and most accessible may be Washington Square (1880).  Set in a fine old house in New York City, it depicts the sort of reserved, respectable people with whom the Roosevelt family might have associated.  In 1949 it was filmed as The Heiress, starring Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, and Ralph Richardson.  The heiress is plain, simple Catherine Sloper, only surviving child of a successful physician, and she refuses to believe her widower father’s insistence that Morris Townsend, a handsome young man rich only in charm, is courting her solely for her money.

It is the same plot as James’ The Aspern Papers (1888).  In that story, the unnamed narrator schemes to get his hands on rare letters, not money, but to do so he must woo Tita (in later editions, Tina), an unmarried, middle-aged woman living with her elderly spinster aunt in a faded palazzo in Venice.  Eventually Tita sees through his ploy and wounds the narrator more severely than if she had stabbed him.  Likewise, Catherine at last recognizes the truth of her father’s warnings and preserves her broken heart by never marrying.

“Catherine,” James mused, “became an admirable old maid.  She formed habits, regulated her days upon a system of her own, interested herself in charitable institutions, . . . and went generally, with an even and noiseless step, about the rigid business of her life. . . . She developed a few harmless eccentricities; her habits, once formed, were rather stiffly maintained; her opinions, on all moral and social matters, were extremely conservative; and before she was forty she was regarded as an old-fashioned person, and an authority on customs that had passed away.”

One is tempted to apply those words to James himself, especially when recalling that William Faulkner supposedly described James as “one of the nicest old ladies I ever met.”  Part of James’ attraction to England and the Continent was his sense of the past, an instinctive desire for layers of antiquity, for cultivated order and dignified heritage.  To James, the worst traits of America, vulgar arrested adolescence and crass egomania, were embodied in aggressive, volatile men like Theodore Roosevelt.

Yet, irony turned upon one of its supreme practitioners.  In 1908 James visited G. K. Chesterton, and, as Chesterton recorded in his Autobiography (1936), “the balanced tea cup and tentative sentence of Mr. Henry James” were rudely rattled and interrupted by the sudden and unexpected arrival of Hilaire Belloc and a friend, boisterous and scruffy after a few days of hiking.

Chesterton doubted whether James ever appreciated “the irony of the best comedy in which he ever played a part.”  Chesterton explained that James had “left America because he loved Europe, and all that was meant by England or France; the gentry, the gallantry, the tradition of lineage and locality, . . . and there, on the other side of the tea table, was Europe, was the old thing that made France and England, the posterity of the English squires and the French soldiers; ragged, unshaven, shouting for beer, shameless above all shades of poverty and wealth; sprawling, indifferent, secure.  And what looked across at it was still the Puritan refinement of Boston; and the space it looked across was wider than the Atlantic.”

Henry James was a snob, his stories are polished, but they are not pointless any more than they are uninteresting.  They do require patience, especially his later novels, long studies of reticent people of means, lapidary stories of desire and duplicity, marked by introspective and meandering sentences, replete, if one may so say, with subordinate clauses.  Best to start one’s sojourn with James in Washington Square.

By 1908, when James was being baffled by the rowdiness of Belloc, an Oxford-educated Member of Parliament, Theodore Roosevelt was winding down his presidential term and planning a safari to eastern Africa.  There he shot lion and other big game, while James was publishing a volume of his stories, including one from 1903, “The Beast in the Jungle,” about a man obsessed with some elusive future event that will define his legacy.

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.



April 15th, 2015Perils of Ironyby Daniel J. Heisey

“What a miserable little snob Henry James is,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt to a friend in June of 1894.  Roosevelt had just read James’ short story “The Death of the Lion” in the April issue of a new periodical called The Yellow Book.  “His polished, pointless, uninteresting stories,” Roosevelt continued, “about the upper social classes of England make one blush to think that he was once an American.”  As an antidote, Roosevelt read something by an Englishman then living in Vermont:  “I turned to a story of [Rudyard] Kipling’s with the feeling of getting into fresh, healthy, out-of-doors life.”

Roosevelt seems to have been a stranger to irony, a deficiency for which Americans have been stereotyped.  What caused his outburst was James turning his gift for irony on himself:  the dying lion of the story is an aging author admired by all the best people, but they have no time in their busy social calendars to read his books.  As the old literary giant lies on his deathbed, no one in the stately old house can find the lone manuscript of his latest (and last) book that one of them had borrowed, although everyone is sure it must be brilliant.

Just as all Roosevelt could see in the story was an English country house populated with pompous aristocrats, many people today seem to think that Henry James’ stories are all about flower arrangements and antique furniture.  Merchant-Ivory’s lush film adaptations of three of James’ novels have helped create that impression, distracting from the two key elements in all James’ fiction, greed and manipulation.  Often an instrument in those machinations is sexual energy, and here the reader is left to find the lewd scene in, to take but one example, The Spoils of Poynton (1897).

Roosevelt was right about James being an expatriate.  Although born in New York City, James spent much of his boyhood abroad.  In 1875 James, at age thirty-two, moved to Europe, staying in Paris and Venice before settling in London and then in the English village of Rye.  In 1915, near the end of his life, James became a British subject, and early the next year King George V bestowed upon him the Order of Merit.

Still, Roosevelt apparently had forgotten James’ stories set in America.  One of the best known and most accessible may be Washington Square (1880).  Set in a fine old house in New York City, it depicts the sort of reserved, respectable people with whom the Roosevelt family might have associated.  In 1949 it was filmed as The Heiress, starring Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, and Ralph Richardson.  The heiress is plain, simple Catherine Sloper, only surviving child of a successful physician, and she refuses to believe her widower father’s insistence that Morris Townsend, a handsome young man rich only in charm, is courting her solely for her money.

It is the same plot as James’ The Aspern Papers (1888).  In that story, the unnamed narrator schemes to get his hands on rare letters, not money, but to do so he must woo Tita (in later editions, Tina), an unmarried, middle-aged woman living with her elderly spinster aunt in a faded palazzo in Venice.  Eventually Tita sees through his ploy and wounds the narrator more severely than if she had stabbed him.  Likewise, Catherine at last recognizes the truth of her father’s warnings and preserves her broken heart by never marrying.

“Catherine,” James mused, “became an admirable old maid.  She formed habits, regulated her days upon a system of her own, interested herself in charitable institutions, . . . and went generally, with an even and noiseless step, about the rigid business of her life. . . . She developed a few harmless eccentricities; her habits, once formed, were rather stiffly maintained; her opinions, on all moral and social matters, were extremely conservative; and before she was forty she was regarded as an old-fashioned person, and an authority on customs that had passed away.”

One is tempted to apply those words to James himself, especially when recalling that William Faulkner supposedly described James as “one of the nicest old ladies I ever met.”  Part of James’ attraction to England and the Continent was his sense of the past, an instinctive desire for layers of antiquity, for cultivated order and dignified heritage.  To James, the worst traits of America, vulgar arrested adolescence and crass egomania, were embodied in aggressive, volatile men like Theodore Roosevelt.

Yet, irony turned upon one of its supreme practitioners.  In 1908 James visited G. K. Chesterton, and, as Chesterton recorded in his Autobiography (1936), “the balanced tea cup and tentative sentence of Mr. Henry James” were rudely rattled and interrupted by the sudden and unexpected arrival of Hilaire Belloc and a friend, boisterous and scruffy after a few days of hiking.

Chesterton doubted whether James ever appreciated “the irony of the best comedy in which he ever played a part.”  Chesterton explained that James had “left America because he loved Europe, and all that was meant by England or France; the gentry, the gallantry, the tradition of lineage and locality, . . . and there, on the other side of the tea table, was Europe, was the old thing that made France and England, the posterity of the English squires and the French soldiers; ragged, unshaven, shouting for beer, shameless above all shades of poverty and wealth; sprawling, indifferent, secure.  And what looked across at it was still the Puritan refinement of Boston; and the space it looked across was wider than the Atlantic.”

Henry James was a snob, his stories are polished, but they are not pointless any more than they are uninteresting.  They do require patience, especially his later novels, long studies of reticent people of means, lapidary stories of desire and duplicity, marked by introspective and meandering sentences, replete, if one may so say, with subordinate clauses.  Best to start one’s sojourn with James in Washington Square.

By 1908, when James was being baffled by the rowdiness of Belloc, an Oxford-educated Member of Parliament, Theodore Roosevelt was winding down his presidential term and planning a safari to eastern Africa.  There he shot lion and other big game, while James was publishing a volume of his stories, including one from 1903, “The Beast in the Jungle,” about a man obsessed with some elusive future event that will define his legacy.

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.



April 15th, 2015How Close was C. S. Lewis to “Crossing the Tiber”?by Joseph Pearce

I’ve received a letter from a Catholic seminarian, requesting my opinion of an article by Eric Seddon in Mythlore which included a somewhat shrill attack on a position that I had allegedly taken in my book, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church. Here’s my response:

I don’t have the leisure to critique Seddon’s article in detail. Suffice it to say that it contains much that is good and much that is less so. Upon my admittedly hasty and cursory perusal it appears that Seddon has an inadequate knowledge of the nuanced differences between Protestants in general and between different branches of Anglicanism in particular. He doesn’t seem to clearly distinguish between Ulster Protestants and their bigoted Orangism on the one hand and mainstream English Anglicanism on the other, a fatal flaw in any argument on these thorny issues.

His reading of the theology of Narnia is at times odd (to say the least) ...

With regard to the short section in which he criticizes me, I don’t feel that there is anything that needs answering because he accuses me of taking a position that I do not take. I do not argue that Lewis “all but ‘crossed the Tiber’”. On the contrary, I imply towards the end of my book that Lewis’s knee-jerk Ulster tribalism all but precluded there being any possibility of his conversion to Rome. I merely point out that Lewis implies the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament in his statement that the “Blessed Sacrament” (his words, not mine) is the most important thing for a Christian, even more important than the love of neighbor, thereby equating the Sacrament with the Commandment to love God. Lewis did not seem to comprehend or believe in Transubstantiation and could not be considered a Thomist but even a belief in Consubstantiation would be much closer to a belief in the Real Presence than most Anglicans and almost all other Protestants would believe. He also believed avowedly in purgatory and went to auricular confession, both of which are decidedly odd beliefs and practices for even the “highest” Anglican. 

In short and in sum, my argument is not and has never been that Lewis almost “crossed the Tiber” but that his crypto-Catholic beliefs make him a rather odd and idiosyncratic Anglican.



April 15th, 2015Does Darwin Love Me?by Joseph Pearce

Well, does he? All will be revealed ...

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/does-darwin-love-me.html



April 14th, 2015The Next Issueby Joseph Pearce

The theme of this issue is “Revolution versus Revelation: France & the Faith”.

Highlights:

Stephanie A. Mann compares “Revolution and Private Revelation”, sketching “Some Notes on Marian Apparitions in France”.

Joseph G. Trabbic writes on “Étienne Gilson on Doing Philosophy in the Light of Revelation”.

Fr. Henri Giroux reveals “What everybody seems to have missed” in Pascal’s Wager.

Matthew Chominksi admires the aesthetic of Chateaubriand and Ratzinger as “A Frenchman and a German Walk the Path of Beauty”.

John Beaumont considers “The Case of Adolf Retté: A Great French Convert and Catholic Apologist”.

Lisa Salinas teaches “A Lesson in Trust at the Feet of Millet”.

Ken Clark offers his impressions of “Monet’s Rouen Cathedrals”.

Susan Treacy scales the heights of the “Requiem Aeternam: Gabriel Fauré’s Vision of Rest”.

James M. Wilson follows Raïssa Maritain into the mystical depths.

Brendan D. King translates Rainer Maria Rilke.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker joins C. S. Lewis in condemning the hideous strength of the “N.I.C.E. New World”.

James Bemis praises the classic movie, The Life and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Kevin O’Brien is aghast as “The Germans Invade St. Louis” and recalls when he was Jung at heart!

Fr. Benedict Kiely discusses “The Real Moral Equivalence” with regard to the Islamist slaughter of Christians.

Ken Colston reviews Catholic Literature and Secularisation in France and England, 1880-1914.

Philip Gonzales reviews The Poet as Believer: A Theological Study of Paul Claudel.

Andrew Lomas reviews Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoit Chantre.

Clara Sarrocco reviews The Life of Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey & Mary’s House in Ephesus.

Fr. Colum Power reviews Abandonment to Divine Providence.

Marie Dudzik reviews Master Thomas Aquinas and the Fullness of Life.

S. R. Aichinger reviews The Oracles Fell Silent.

Louis Markos reviews The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got and the West Forgot.

Thomas Martin reviews Fr. Milward’s Issues of Life.



April 10th, 2015A Modern Parableby Dena Hunt

(with apologies to St. Luke)

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a “Liberal” and the other a “Conservative”. 11 The Liberal stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, pro-lifers, home-schoolers, anti-immigration bigots or like this anti-gay marriage guy here, who is probably a racist, too. 12 I promote the inclusion of all, save him, of course, for he is intolerant. 13 But the ‘intolerant’ conservative, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner, guilty of politically incorrect thoughts!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who does not tolerate the intolerant is himself intolerant.”

April 7th, 2015A.D.by Dena Hunt

Well, I watched the premiere of the miniseries A.D. last night on NBC, and, mistaking the scheduled start time, I also watched “Dateline,” and hour-long show about the show, before the premiere started. (I believe “Dateline” is usually more varied, but this particular episode was devoted to the series, as an interview with A.D.’s producers, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, who also produced the miniseries The Bible and its spinoff Son of God last year.) A film based on Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus was also on last night on another channel, and since I don’t have a DVR, I had to choose between the two. I don’t know whether I chose wisely. Promotions made much of the O’Reilly film’s main character being played by a Muslim. Oh, my.

I was wary. The Bible, which can still be seen on Netflix I think, was not offensive and if viewers are not especially sensitive to certain kinds of flaws, it’s worth watching—except for one fatal flaw in Son of God, namely, the ubiquitous presence of Mary Magdalen as the only female disciple of Christ. Even a ten-year-old would understand such a depiction as “Jesus’s girlfriend.” One is thrown back on the hard-core reality that despite all the promotional hoopla of Downey-Burnett, this is after all a totally commercial enterprise, and if they could tap into the Dan Brown fan circle, why not?

For that reason, I found the hour-long interview with the hand-holding couple, featuring clips from promotions at mega-churches, too gooey to endure. What is it about the word “faith” that makes interviewers and interviewees behave strangely? There is a one-second pause before the word is used and another one-second pause afterwards, often accompanied by downcast eyes, as though one must make a momentary inner communion of some kind. I think perhaps it’s code for respectfulness or something.

So—about the show? Well, I would say that if you are at all aesthetically sensitive, you should avoid it. Characterization is soap-operatic at very best; worst of all is Mary, who is downright trite. The interview had promised historical authenticity; I’m no expert, but did everyone in 33 A.D. sit at dining tables, use writing desks, and wear modern fabrics, make-up, and hairstyles? Intermarriage with Europeans must have taken place centuries before: even the high priest Caiphas has curly blonde hair and blue eyes, while his red-haired, hypersexual and politically astute wife wears gowns that might made a Roman woman proud. They reside in a palace as grand as Pontius Pilate’s and wear, I think, at least as many jewels. The apostle John, meanwhile, is a large very black African, whose emotionalism is in stark contrast to cowardly and faithless Peter (strangely lacking in contrition after the crucifixion), who is almost a caricature of an Ashkenazic New York Jew. Those elite few who secretly “know” that Jesus “was” the Lord are a European Mary, whose frown of sadness evokes terrible pity in an African Magdalen and John. German-looking Peter is strangely not among those few who knew Jesus to be the Lord.

I don’t know when the next episode airs because I didn’t pay attention to that announcement, frankly. It has been a long time since I watched a broadcast network movie or series and I had forgotten the ten-minutes of fifteen commercials for every two minutes of film (hyperbole, I know, but not by much). Even if the series were excellent, it does too much psychic damage to watch a depiction of the betrayal of Christ interrupted by ads for wrinkle creams, new cars, and reverse mortgages. The term “sacrilege” has little meaning for commerce.

Yet—it’s something, isn’t it? I mean, it is, as Downey-Burnett says, “getting the message out there.” I’m not sure exactly what that means. I just know that while I maintain a right to judge some things on grounds of taste, and even to some degree on accuracy, I don’t maintain any right to judge otherwise. So—good luck to them. I wish them success.



April 3rd, 2015Holiness and Hashtagsby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

George Takei and a cat





We live in an age where all it takes to be good, right and morally superior is to change your Facebook profile picture.



Hans Fiene writes of our generation and those that follow us ...


More than we wanted to find the perfect prom date, we wanted to find our own bigotry to eradicate. After years of hearing those saints sing “We Shall Overcome,” we were overcome with jealousy. We coveted Selma. We envied that march. We looked at that footage and hungered for our own cause to devour.

Cruelly, the Lord of Social Justice wouldn’t grant us a cause, at least not an easy one. Sure, we could march against Roe v. Wade and defend the unborn. But opposing abortion would have required us to adopt sex lives consistent with that position. No more hookup culture, no more consequence-free sex, no more placing our own desires over the needs of children. Opposing Planned Parenthood would never be our cause. It would have cost us too much fun.

Likewise, fighting poverty couldn’t possibly be our Selma. The annoying thing about defending the poor is that the poor need money, and we had student loans to pay. And sex trafficking wasn’t any more attractive. To be holy, you need a cause no one else supports, least of all those wretched white Southern fundamentalists. While forcing women into prostitution is certainly bad, what’s the point of speaking against it if Jerry Falwell agrees with you?



The solution?  Fiene continues ...


Then, one day, manna descended from heaven in the form of gay marriage. Here it was! The cause we’d longed for all these years had finally arrived! Here was an injustice no one had ever opposed before. Here was a group of marginalized people no one had ever defended. So by embracing this cause, we would instantly be more compassionate, more accepting, more saintly than every human being who had ever lived.

What did it cost us to embrace this cause? Absolutely nothing! It required no moral consistency, no financial sacrifice, no effort. We could sleep with as many people as we wanted, divorce as many people as we wanted, father and then abandon as many children as our hearts desired, and lose no credibility. We could spend our entire adult lives defecating on the institution of marriage and this could not sully our gay marriage halos.



Read the whole amazing article.  There’s some great stuff in it ...


We looked to the icon of racial equality, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose greatest accomplishments included spearheading nationwide non-violent protests, preaching peace, giving speeches, and writing letters that will live forever in the annals of American history, and we felt not an ounce of humiliation when the best prophet we could place beside him was George Takei, a man whose greatest accomplishments include pretending to fly a spaceship on TV and sharing funny pictures of cats on the Internet. 



 It concludes in a masterly sweep of prose ...


We will continue diminishing the bravery of Rosa Parks by claiming a seat beside her as our reward for the one time we boycotted Chick-Fil-A for a month. We will trivialize the death of Medgar Evers by praising his blood for freeing gay couples to financially ruin a florist who hurt their feelings instead of walking one more block to find another purveyor of petunias who was happy to take their money.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, countless children of God will embrace the older saints who gave them lives of far greater dignity on earth by following Christ’s example and enduring insults, beatings, imprisonments, and even death for them. We know this and yet we will insist that we’re owed an equal measure of honor because we tweeted our support for every gay kiss on “Glee.”

From the days of our youth, my generation hungered for a cause that would make us as righteous as the saints who marched on Selma. We have found that cause. We have sunk our teeth into that righteousness and, at this point, we couldn’t care less if it’s real. The Lord of Social Justice has finally answered our prayers. And Lord help the bigot who comes between us and our cause.


April 3rd, 2015A Blast from My Pastby Joseph Pearce

I was both moved and mortified to receive this e-mail in my in-box this morning. It was as though a ghost from my past had come to haunt me:

  I can’t quite remember how (after all these years) I stumbled upon you a few weeks back. It could have been one search (Google) that led to another and led to another but I was intrigued to learn that you are now a Catholic writer of some renown! A man of God no less.

  I should say at this point, you don’t know me and have never met me but I would have been an object of your hatred despite this inconvenient fact.

  Naturally suspicious, I did further searches which led to articles, essays, YouTube videos, all of which confirmed that you are indeed the real Joe Pearce, former leader of the YNF and a name that struck fear into youngsters like myself, ie. of a certain hue. To me, you were almost the embodiment of Satan, someone so hateful that God forbid, our paths should ever cross in our native Barking. You were a kind of Keyser Soze character (if you’ve ever watched The Usual Suspects) except that he was a fictional character.

  Back in the 1970’s I always had to be wary of your ilk, racists and bigots who didn’t mind a tear up and to whom violence, verbal abuse and intimidation came so easily. But you were the man at the very top, someone who could inspire all the others, a legion of loyal followers ready to vote, march, fight and even cause riots if necessary. I suspect for such a young man it must have been a huge buzz.

  I read ‘Race With The Devil’ this morning…..Good Friday of all days. It wasn’t quite what I expected but then neither was my reaction. I wanted to hate it and to continue hating you but ultimately it is an uplifting story, one of hope even and one that made me unashamedly shed a tear.

  I’m conscious that I still bear some minor (psychological) scars from growing up in Barking and Dagenham in the 70’s. Scars that are well hidden even from my nearest and dearest but you will pleased to know (at least I hope you will) that stories like yours and reading this book go some way to healing these scars.

  Having said that, growing up where we did, when we did was an unqualified joy for me, great times and great people, very many of whom I am still in contact with to this day. I feel you might have missed out in many respects.

  I would be interested to know about your feelings then and now especially given how the cultural landscape of Barking, Dagenham and even parts of East Anglia have changed so dramatically recently. I wonder if you ever think of the effect your actions would have had back in the day and how that affects you now. What about some of your old friendships?

  Congratulations on the book. It’s a fascinating read and a great story. I’m still pinching myself that this incredible 180 degree turnaround is actually real. It pleases me that you have found true happiness. Your old campaigners would surely be happy for you…..free at last

  I wish you and your loved ones well for the future.

  Ps. If you’re ever back in England, allow me to buy you a beer. Now that would be ironic !

 

April 3rd, 2015Catholic Literature Conference in New Englandby Joseph Pearce

I will be one of four speakers at the second annual Catholic Literature Conference in Concord, New Hampshire on Saturday, April 11th. The other speakers are the incomparable Thomas Howard, the indomitable Anthony Esolen, and the indubitably sagacious Duane Bruce. Come and hear Pearce on Shakespeare, Howard on Waugh, Esolen on Mauriac, and Bruce on O’Connor. For further details see here:

http://www.christthekingnh.org/catholic-literature-conference.html

April 2nd, 2015Monarchy, Democracy and Plutocracyby Joseph Pearce

Are monarch and democracy compatible? And are either compatible with plutocracy? These questions are addressed in my latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative, which has caused quite a considerable debate and discussion. Learn more:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/03/monarchy-democracy-and-plutocracy.html

April 2nd, 2015The Catholicism of Macbethby Joseph Pearce

I’ve received an enquiry about the presence of Catholicism in Macbeth from a parent whose daughters are reading it for school. I thought that my response might interest visitors to the Ink Desk:

Thanks for your enquiry about the Catholicism in Macbeth. I’m not sure whether we have published an article in StAR specifically on Macbeth nor, if we have done so, whether it is available on the website. If you check the archives section, which shows a wide variety (but not a complete set) of back issues, you could check on the sample articles in the Shakespeare theme issues. Another good resource is the Catholic Shakespeare website, which has several articles onMacbethhttp://www.christianshakespeare.blogspot.com/search/label/Macbeth

I would, however, urge you to purchase a copy of the Ignatius Critical Edition of Macbeth, which I edited and for which I wrote a long introduction, exploring the Catholic dimension and context, which is both palpable and potent. The edition also has a number of excellent critical essays by Christian scholars: http://www.ignatius.com/promotions/ignatiuscriticaleditions/shakespeare-macbeth.htm

I hope this helps.

March 31st, 2015Saint Gilbert?by Joseph Pearce

Here’s a great article on the great GKC. You will not, and probably should not, agree with everything but nonetheless it is a well written article on the arguments for Chesterton’s sanctity. 

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/a-most-unlikely-saint/386243/.



March 31st, 2015The Catholicism of The Lord of the Rings: Responding to a Skepticby Joseph Pearce

Last night I gave a talk on The Lord of the Rings at Christendom College in Virginia. Here’s my response to a very eloquent young man who remains skeptical about the Catholic dimension in Tolkien’s classic:


Regarding your skepticism, I can only reiterate that Tolkien insisted that “The Lord of the Rings is, of course, a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”. His words, not mine. He also specifically called LotR an allegory on several occasions. And, as I said last night, he considered the fact that “I am a Christian, which can be deduced from my stories, and in fact a Roman Catholic” as the most significant factor on the “scale of significance” connecting him, as author, to the work, above his “taste in languages” which was also important.

Regarding the example of Theoden that you cite, you will note, I hope, that I did not make this part of my presentation but only mentioned it in answer to a specific question, prefacing my answer with “I think”. In other words, there are some things that are obviously intended to signify the Catholic dimension, such as the introduction of March 25 and December 25 as signifiers, much as the Beowulf poet introduces numerical signifiers in the final part of the poem to connect the death of Beowulf with the Passion of Christ. Please be aware, however, that great writers often employ the double entendre or triple entendre to convey a multifaceted dimension to their work. It is, for instance, impossible to read Hopkins well without being attuned to this dimension. The more someone has a linguistic nous, the more he will have these double entendres at his fingertips. In other words, Theoden can mean one thing in Old English while still connecting to the Greek. Whether this was intended by Tolkien or is simply a fortunate “coincidence” is a matter of conjecture.

I discuss the above and much more in my next book, Frodo’s Journey (Saint Benedict Press), which I urge you to read. I’d be very interested in hearing your response with a view to deepening our conversation.

March 31st, 2015Mr. Stewart Goes on Radioby Daniel J. Heisey

Joe Queenan, writing “In Praise of Libraries” in the March, 2015, issue of The Rotarian, described public libraries as places of adventure and serendipity, where through books someone can discover new people, places, and things.  Some libraries, though, also take one into unexpected areas by means of old movies, and sometimes even through old-time radio shows.

In several rooms adjoining the public library in Indiana, Pennsylvania, is the Jimmy Stewart Museum, preserving the memory of that small town’s most famous son.  One can get to the museum either from the library or from the street, and the museum brims with Stewart’s movie posters and memorabilia, as well as family photographs and artifacts.  Also on display are his uniforms from his twenty-seven years as an officer, ultimately a general, in the United States Air Force.

Stewart (1908-1997) seems to be best remembered for playing Everyman roles on film, but he performed on radio as well.  He stands out today as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), and that wholesome image suited the dark purposes of Alfred Hitchcock, who cast Stewart in four of his films.  Stewart’s many other film roles ranged from an idealistic young United States Senator (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939) to an elderly janitor (Mr. Krueger’s Christmas, 1980), from a Big Band leader (The Glenn Miller Story, 1954) to a pioneering aviator (The Spirit of St. Louis, 1957).  Also noteworthy are roles that seem unlikely for him, such as a circus clown (The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952) and a cowboy who inherits a brothel (The Cheyenne Social Club, 1970).

Less well-known nowadays are Stewart’s appearances on various radio programs in the 1940s and 1950s.  As John Dunning wrote in On the Air (1998), “Stewart was a superb radio actor, overcoming the drift of some scripts into folksy platitude.”  Fortunately for Stewart’s fans, just as many of his movies are available on DVD or on YouTube, some of his radio broadcasts are available commercially on compact disc and also on-line.

Stewart was a big name in Hollywood when he was asked to narrate an hour-long patriotic radio broadcast, “We Hold These Truths.”  It was commissioned to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights (15 December, 1791), and so it aired a week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  In March of that year, Stewart had enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Corps; when war broke out, he was already a corporal.  Norman Corwin, a New Dealer noted for his eloquent (and often melodramatic) radio scripts, wrote the show, and by special arrangement, it was broadcast simultaneously on all four national radio networks (CBS, NBC-Red, NBC-Blue, and Mutual) and was heard, in Corwin’s words, by “the people of the federated states” and across “all zones of continental time.”

After the war, Stewart’s time in radio occurred primarily on weekly anthology shows.  Along with most movie stars of the day, he appeared on the series Suspense, which tended to cast against type, so that comedians like Bob Hope and Milton Berle took on serious roles, and Boris Karloff, usually associated with horror films, played a Scotland Yard detective.  Stewart joined this line-up of half-hour stories, beginning 21 February, 1946, in “Consequence,” playing a medical doctor who feels trapped in an unhappy marriage, and he reprised the role on 19 May, 1949.  In “Mission Completed,” aired on 1 December, 1949, he played an embittered disabled war veteran obsessed with revenge against his Japanese torturer.

In the years before television, movies were adapted for radio.  Thus, the stars famous for their faces also had to distinguish themselves by their voices.  Lux Radio Theatre, described by Dunning as “the most important dramatic show in radio,” led the way with hour-long abridgements.  On 10 March, 1947, Stewart was behind the Lux radio microphone as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life; he also revisited for the Lux Radio Theatre his roles in Destry Rides Again, The Philadelphia Story, and Winchester ’73

.

Another series that brought the silver screen to radio audiences was Screen Directors’ Playhouse.  As its name implies, the director introduced the radio version of his film, and after the radio production, he and the actors talked about the show and the challenges of making the hearers see the story.  On 8 May, 1949, Stewart appeared on the program and once again became George Bailey of Bedford Falls, and on 9 December, 1949, Stewart recreated for the Playhouse his role as reporter P. J. McNeal in Call Northside 777.

For about nine months Stewart starred in his own weekly half-hour series, The Six Shooter.  For thirty-nine episodes, from 20 September, 1953, to 24 June, 1954, Stewart portrayed Britt Ponset, a genial loner who, according to the opening words of each show, “is angular and long-legged, his skin is sun-dyed brown.”  Whereas by the early 1950s children had long enjoyed a popular Western radio series, The Lone Ranger, The Six Shooter provided grown-ups with more realistic entertainment about life in the old West.  Radio, however, was then in decline as more people could afford televisions.

When television became readily accessible, it was advertised as bringing families together by connecting them with their ancestors who had gathered around the flickering tribal fire whilst a bard regaled them with heroic tales and ballads.  Radio shows like Suspense, Screen Directors’ Playhouse, and The Six Shooter, though, have a stronger claim on that connection with the storyteller captivating folks around the ancestral hearth.  Radio requires the listener’s mind to supply the visual scene; as the Chorus enjoins the audience at the beginning of William Shakespeare’s Henry V, “Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts:/ . . . Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them/Printing their proud hoofs in the receiving earth.”

As Joe Queenan said, in a library someone can find a book and thus discover a new world.  The same holds true for a classic film or radio show.  Although it can be easy to doze off during a movie or over a book, disengaging from a radio drama tends to be more difficult.  Whether in a library or elsewhere, new frontiers beckon when one encounters James Stewart’s old radio programs.  If on screen he could almost make people see a tall white rabbit, imagine how well he could conjure illusions on the radio.


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.

March 25th, 2015A Really Bad Article on The Merchant of Veniceby Joseph Pearce

Although I often like Sean Fitzpatrick’s literary articles, this is pure unadulterated drivel:

  www.crisismagazine.com/2015/merchant-venice-shakespearean-insincerity

  Mr. Fitzpatrick is merely echoing the Shylock-as-victim misreading of the play that is one of the most egregious cases of Shakespeare abuse imaginable. I do not have time to dissect the many errors in the article, not least of which is the casting of the saintly and wise Portia as a bigoted anti-semite, but would urge strongly that readers of the Ink Desk buy my book Through Shakespeare’s Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays in which I devote about half the book to discussing The Merchant of Venice, scene by scene. I would also urge you to buy the Ignatius Critical Edition of The Merchant of Venice, which contains some superb critical essays, including a brilliant defence of Portia’s efforts to save Shylock by Daniel Lowenstein, a professor at the UCLA Law School, and an excellent essay by an economist on the way in which Shakespeare and his audience would have seen the practice of usury, i.e. in the light of the Church’s condemnation of it.

March 23rd, 2015Comments on the StARby Joseph Pearce

I recently received the following comments on the latest issue of StAR from Fr. Peter Milward, SJ.

a) It is truly admirable the way the editors of StAR come up with a new topic for each issue that is relevant at once to Catholic tradition and to the Modern age, and this issue on Nazism and Secularism is no exception. The design of the cover, too, is no less admirable, apt and appropriate.

b) The Editorial by Joe Pearce is, as usual, brilliant, prompting me to hope that this and all his previous editorials are included in the book reviewed by Portia Hopkins on p.39, “Beauteous Truth”. Truly Joe succeeds in showing how beautiful is Catholic Truth. Only, I have one animadversion concerning the way he traces the triumph of secularism back to the French Revolution, whereas I would trace it all the way back to Henry VIII with his Erastian domination of the Church by the State, thereby effecting a subtle alteration, not only for England but also for Europe, from “Christendom” to mere “Christianity”.

c) No less than three times Prof Aeschliman refers to TS Eliot’s notion of a “dissociation of sensibility”, without seeming to realize the context in which Eliot uses this term. According to Eliot, it set in sometime during the seventeenth century, between Shakespeare and Donne, on the one hand, and Milton and Dryden, on the other. It may be traced, though Eliot leaves it vague, to the influence of the “new philosophy” heralded by Sir Francis Bacon and espoused by the Royal Society from 1660 onwards.

d) It was already in my boyhood that I read Franz Werfel’s “Song of Bernadette”, and I was so impressed by both the book and the author. I was so convinced that the author must have been a devout Catholic, but I was so disillusioned on learning that he was a Jew. So Jews can appear as Catholics, as Catholics were originally Jews. And the same is true of Simone Weil.

e) “Behold the Woman!” What a splendid title for an article on an exhibition on “Mary in Sacred Art”! Also in the content of the article, the exhibition aptly demonstrates “the profound impact of one woman upon art and culture”. And that calls to mind the contemporary impact of the same Woman on the drama of William Shakespeare, as he conceives of all his ideal heroines, from the Elizabethan comedies through the Jacobean tragedies to the final tragi-comedies, as “full of grace”.

f) What a great man was Dietrich von Hildebrand! His greatness appears not only in his conversion to the Catholic Church but also in his humble acceptance of Catholic teaching, especially as expounded by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical “Humanae Vitae”, in spite of its betrayal by many American moral theologians led by Charles Curran.

g) I strongly disagree with Portia Hopkins’ review of Joe Pearce’s “Beauteous Truth”, when she criticizes his “evident hostility to the Protestant branch of the church”. In these words she both betrays her own allegiance to the modern “branch theory” and her ignorance of Church history, according to which Luther was at once a schismatic and a declared heretic – or as her namesake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, calls him, “beast of the waste wood”. In the interests of ecumenism, there is no point in whitewashing the past, which inevitably remains what it has always been, though in the present we may well cultivate friendly relations with “our separated brethren”, as also with those of other religions. Incidentally, it is a pity that she makes no mention of her namesake among the “important figures in the Catholic revival”, including Newman, Belloc, Chesterton, Greene and O’Connor – maybe because he isn’t sufficiently ecumenical for her taste.

March 23rd, 2015Anger is an Enemyby Joseph Pearce

What does Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols have in common with Christ in the Temple? All is revealed in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:
http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/03/anger-is-an-enemy.html

March 22nd, 2015And Furthermore…by Dena Hunt

Joseph’s recent post (“What is Catholic Literature?”) is succinct. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but I’ve found that the singular characteristic of truth is that it’s simple, and it’s usually brief. Things that call themselves “complex” or “it’s complicated” are generally obfuscations, camouflaged avoidances or distractions. There are a few quotes I’m going to lift from his post and comment on in a furthermore fashion:


“The ethos of a work contains and supplies the timeless dimension to any work of literature, in the sense that it builds the work on an ethical foundation and within an ethical framework that transcends time or space or circumstance.”


This “ethos,” this “timeless dimension,” is the wheat separated from the chaff of space-and-time-bound culture. We all recognize it, even when it’s as old as Homer. We call it “truth.”


“Christ tells … stories, his parables, which are the means by which he conveys the deepest and most important truths. We cannot fully comprehend the cosmos in the light of the purely abstract, we need allegory and metaphor and story, the very “stuff” of which literature is made.”


Imagination is the elastic needed to expand and stretch human comprehension (not displace it). It’s limited, yes, but very strong and resilient. It provides us the means to willingly suspend our disbelief. Those who disdain imagination do so out of fear, and it’s true that the willingness to use our imagination is an act of faith. Without it, however, life (and literature) is a shrunken and brittle world of mere fact, a purely physical, impoverished, and fragile reality whose only reason to exist is to accumulate ever more data in an otherwise pointless existence.


“A religious world view always influences the arts. Atheism is a religious world view; agnosticism is a religious worldview. A religious worldview is unavoidable, in life as much as in literature. It is, therefore, not a question of the influence of religions upon the arts, which is unavoidable, but of which religion influences the arts.”


We know that the opposite of religion is not irreligion, but indifference. Like philosophy: It’s not a question of whether philosophy “interests” you, but of whether you recognize and acknowledge the philosophy that is governing you, your mind, and your life.


What is Catholic literature? It’s the product of a Catholic mind. You can’t fake it. And you can’t hide it, whether you acknowledge it or not. It’s as obvious in O’Conner’s violent southern plots as it is in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, as blatant in Shakespeare’s characters as it is in Walker Percy’s. We know it when we see it. We always know the truth when we see it. Critics can’t analyze it away. It sticks. It stays. 

March 20th, 2015What is Catholic Literature?by Joseph Pearce

I’ve just responded to some questions on the meaning and essence of Catholic literature asked to me by a student at Benedictine College. Here are the questions and my answers:

Who, in your experience, is the best example of a truly Catholic author?

This is a huge and difficult question to answer because it depends upon how we are defining a Catholic author. In terms of theology and philosophy, St. Thomas Aquinas (obviously!); in terms of literature, Dante (perhaps also obviously) and Shakespeare (less obviously but nonetheless as truly). In terms of modern literature, Hopkins or Tolkien.

Because so much of fiction is tied to a time-period and a certain set of circumstances, how is an ethos built to draw in the reader?

In one sense fiction is not tied to a time-period because it can transcend time (e.g. historical fiction), or space (e.g. science fiction), or time and space (e.g. fantasy); in another sense, it is indeed tied to a time period, insofar as each writer is drawing upon his own particular experiences. The ethos of a work contains and supplies the timeless dimension to any work of literature, in the sense that it builds the work on an ethical foundation and within an ethical framework that transcends time or space or circumstance.

What is the role of “the ugly” and sin in Catholic literature? What is the difference between portraying sin truthfully and glorifying it?

Ugliness is necessary in the portrayal of the dark side of life, i.e. sin and suffering, because these things are indeed ugly. Whereas sin is always ugly, deforming the sinner and inflicting suffering on its victims, suffering can become beautiful if it is a path to virtue. A work that portrays sin as ugly and harmful is true literature; a work that portrays sin as beautiful and harmless is a lie.

What are elements you look for in books that make them good Catholic literature? Should art be concerned with being specifically Christian?

All good literature, whether we care to label it as Catholic or not, manifests the triune splendour of the good (virtue or love), the true (reason) and the beautiful (the harmony and order of the cosmos). If a work conveys this trinity it is Catholic, whether it is labeled so or not; insofar as it doesn’t, it is not Catholic, whether it is labelled thus or not.

What about fiction specifically brought you to Truth and Beauty as compared with anything else?
In what way should a religious world view influence the arts in this age where anything that smacks directly of it is marginalized?

Fiction is simply the telling of a story, which is nothing less than a true image of the way that God manifests Himself to us. All of history is His Story. The life of Christ is the greatest story ever told. Within that greatest story ever told, Christ tells other great stories, his parables, which are the means by which he conveys the deepest and most important truths. We cannot fully comprehend the cosmos in the light of the purely abstract, we need allegory and metaphor and story, the very “stuff” of which literature is made.

A religious world view always influences the arts. Atheism is a religious world view; agnosticism is a religious worldview. A religious worldview is unavoidable, in life as much as in literature. It is, therefore, not a question of the influence of religions upon the arts, which is unavoidable, but of which religion influences the arts.

March 20th, 2015Brides of Christ, Martyrs for Russiaby Brendan D. King

In her essay “The Church and the Fiction Writer”, Flannery O’Connor expressed disgust at the pious cliches which then masqueraded as Catholic literature during the 1950’s. Rather than take joy in fully formed characters with mixed flaws and virtues, Catholic readers preferred the simplistic, the sentimental, and the shallow. This problem is not only confined to Catholic fiction.

Catholic nonfiction, especially Saint’s biographies, are often plagued by the same set of problems. Rather than depict a flawed and complex person who became a Saint, Catholic “biographers” will serve up a plaster statue who seems unapproachable, uninspiring, and even outright unbelievable. Real people are, as a rule, far more interesting.

For this reason, it was with great pleasure that I learned that the new English translation of Irina Osipova’s book “Brides of Christ, Martyrs for Russia” has been made available for purchase on Amazon. Describing a community of Byzantine Catholic nuns who offered themselves up for the Salvation of Russia in August 1917, this book is composed of the Nuns’ memoirs of the Gulag, letters, KGB archival documents about their arrests and interrogations, and interviews with those who knew the surviving sisters in their old age. All in all, it reveals the human face of sanctity in a way that is often sorely lacking in other Catholic biographies. As two members of the Community, Mother Catherine Abrikosova and Sr. Rosa of the Heart of Mary, are now being investigated for possible Canonization, the value of this book cannot be underestimated. Therefore, “Brides of Christ, Martyrs for Russia” is strongly recommended to all readers who ware moved by stories of Faith and Martyrdom. To the all the Catholic Martyrs and Confessors under the Bolshevik Yoke, Let Their Memory Be Eternal!

March 19th, 2015Why America is Flounderingby Joseph Pearce

The indomitable Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, has written a simply brilliant article in today’s Crisis Magazine. As with all great articles, all further comment would be superfluous. I will, therefore, simply point you to the link and keep a respectful silence:
http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/great-political-ideas-sustained-great-religious-ideas

March 18th, 2015Savagery Silver-Giltby Daniel J. Heisey

Some actors seem to define a role for all time, so that few people can imagine Thomas More as anyone but Paul Scofield or T. E Lawrence as anyone other than Peter O’Toole.  So, too, Allan Quatermain will always be Stewart Granger, tall and handsome and clean-shaven.  However, Quatermain is much the opposite, bearded and described, for example, in the brief tale “Hunter Quatermain’s Story,” as a “curious-looking little lame man” who has “short grizzled hair, which stood about an inch above his head like the bristles of a brush.”

That description was most closely depicted on film in 1937 by Cedric Hardwicke, but it is the 1950 interpretation by Granger that determines how most people think of this fictional hero.  Portrayals by Richard Chamberlain and Patrick Swayze scarcely bear mentioning, while Sean Connery, as he can with any role, conveyed Quatermain’s shrewdness and grit.

Allan Quatermain was created by H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925), and like his contemporary, Sherlock Holmes, Quatermain has taken on a life of his own.  Haggard’s alter ego is best known from the novel King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and its four movie versions.  Although the most faithful film adaptations were in 1937 and 1950, both took liberties, notably by adding to Quatermain’s expedition a beautiful young lady, in 1950 played by Deborah Kerr.

Quatermain is by profession a big game hunter and by circumstance an explorer in southern Africa, based in Natal.  He therefore has become a symbol of British imperialism and Western bigotry.  Anyone reading the stories, however, will see a more complex picture.

In King Solomon’s Mines, for instance, one of Quatermain’s English companions falls in love with Foulata, a native girl, an aspect of the story that surely raised eyebrows in Victorian drawing rooms.  Meanwhile, in each story Quatermain muses upon the nature of civilization; like exploration itself, such self-examination is something associated with Western culture.  King Solomon’s Mines being so well-known, though, we turn instead to Quatermain in the novel of 1887 simply entitled by his name.

Allan Quatermain is the sequel to King Solomon’s Mines, and it finds Quatermain undertaking another trek into officially uncharted regions of Africa.  This journey is by way of recovering from grief, the widower Quatermain having just buried his only child, his son Harry.  Quatermain and his three companions from the previous story search for a mythical people, the Zu-Vendi, possibly descended from Persians or Phoenicians.

In his mid-fifties, Quatermain has observed that human nature never changes, and he believes that humans are nineteen parts savage and one part civilized.  He sees no big difference between an African girl in a necklace and feathers and an English lady bedecked in much the same manner.  Likewise, he notes that a gentleman in a London club would quickly lose his refined veneer were someone suddenly to strike him.  “Civilisation,” concludes Quatermain, “is only savagery silver-gilt.”

Several scenes in his new adventure are harrowing, but Quatermain reflects that fearing for one’s life makes no sense.  “We never know what is going to happen to us the next minute,” he says, “even when we sit in a well-drained house with two policemen patrolling under the window.”  The end will come, despite all our comforts and precautions.

Quatermain contrasts the law of the Zu-Vendi with that of the English.  English law, he notes, “is much more severe upon offences against property than against the person, as becomes a people whose ruling passion is money.”  He adds, “A man may half kick his wife to death or inflict horrible sufferings upon his children at a much cheaper rate of punishment than he can compound for the theft of a pair of old boots.”  Among the savages, however, “they rightly or wrongly look upon the person as of more consequence than goods and chattels, and not, as in England, as a sort of necessary appendage to the latter.”  That ironic indictment is hardly the opinion of a mindless jingoist.

Quatermain’s adventures contain all the elements humans have always loved in their best stories:  mountains, rivers, and caves; forgotten kingdoms, lost cities, and hidden treasure.  Moreover, there are lions and elephants, swashbuckling battles and narrow escapes, and connections with the world of the Bible.

Quatermain regrets that the old virtues seem to be giving way to commercial celebrity and “many a time-serving and word-coining politician.”  Instead, Quatermain takes pride in being an adventurer, which he defines as “he who goes out to meet whatever may come.”  To his way of thinking, “that is what we all do in the world one way or another.”  For him, being an adventurer “implies a brave heart and a trust in Providence.”

He declares that “all our magnificent muster-roll of colonies, each of which will in time become a great nation, testify to the extraordinary value of the spirit of adventure which at first sight looks like a mild form of lunacy.”  While Quatermain can foresee a day when the British Empire has devolved power and created new nations, he listens sympathetically to the worldview of Umslopogaas, his Zulu friend:  “Better is it to slay a man in fair fight than to suck out his heart’s blood in buying and selling and usury after your white fashion.”

As in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida, the villains in Allan Quatermain are the priests, votaries of the sun god.  Quatermain himself is a religious man, steeped in his Bible and his Book of Common Prayer, yet he doubts the goodness of this world.  “How can a world be good,” he asks, “in which money is the moving power, and self-interest the guiding star?”  He adds, “The wonder is not that it is so bad, but that there should be any good left in it.”

Quatermain has inspired other intrepid characters in bush hats, first Harry Steele, played by Charlton Heston in The Secret of the Incas (1954), and then from the 1980s into the 2000s, Indiana Jones, a role indelibly associated with Harrison Ford.  Quatermain has also roused the imaginations of real-life adventurers, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Wilfred Thesiger.  Those men agreed with Quatermain’s words, “I would go again where the wild game was, back to the land whereof none know the history, back to the savages, whom I love, although some of them are almost as merciless as Political Economy.”  Almost:  It is what makes Quatermain the cultural critic still worth reading.

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.  

March 18th, 2015When Tolkien Met Danteby Brendan D. King

About a year ago, while reading Dorothy Sayers’ translation of “The Divine Comedy” aloud to a terminally ill friend, I was struck by the behavioral similarities between the demons in Dante’s “Inferno” and the Orcs in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”.’

Both share a viciousness toward their prisoners, both have to be forced to follow the orders of senior ranks, and both are just as prone to attack each other when no one else is within reach. The parallels were so similar that it seemed impossible for them to be mere coincidence.

I had always believed that Tolkien was more interested in in the mythologies of Northern Europe. His drawing of influences from Beowulf, the Sigurd legend, the Norse Eddas, and the Finnish Kalevala have all been well documented. Dante seemed much too far removed from the kind of literature which I knew to be his passion.

Then, about a month ago, I noticed Dante’s name listed in the index of Humphrey Carpenter’s “The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.”

Upon turning to the exact page, I found that Tolkien had written the following words as part of a 1967 letter. “I do not seriously dream of being measured against Dante, a supreme poet. At one time, Lewis and I used to read him to one another. I was for a while a member of the Oxford Dante Society.”

Tolkien did say that in recommending him, C.S. Lewis had “overestimated greatly” his knowledge of the Italian language or of its greatest poet. Tolkien also expressed regret that what he called Dante’s “pettiness” was “a sad blemish in places.”

As I mulled over what I had read, I realized that the possibility of Tolkien drawing inspiration from Dante’s Inferno was no longer as far fetched as I had formerly thought. Without further elaboration from Tolkien himself, I cannot be completely certain, but it does seem like a strong circumstantial case could be made.

Now that I think about it, Dante’s immortal line, “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate,”  (“Abandon hope, all ye that enter here”), could be just as fittingly inscribed over the Black Gate of Mordor!

March 18th, 2015Unlocking the Catholicism of “The Lord of the Rings”by Joseph Pearce

Joseph Pearce To Discuss Lord Of The Rings At Christendom: Renowned author, speaker, and professor Joseph Pearce will deliver a lecture titled “Unlocking the Catholicism of The Lord of the Rings” to the Christendom College community on March 30 at 7: 00 p. m. in St. Lawrence Commons. Launching the college’s Major Speakers Program for the spring semester, the talk is open to the public.

Pearce, the director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College, is the co- editor of the St. Austin Review, the executive director of Catholic Courses, and the series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions.

Born in London, England, Pearce was formerly involved with radical politics in his youth, before a discovery of the works of G. K. Chesterton led him to convert to Roman Catholicism in 1989.

Tolkien described The Lord of the Rings as “ a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.” In his talk, Pearce will unlock the Catholic symbolism that allows Tolkien’s epic to be read and understood on the deepest level of religious significance.

Pearce is an internationally renowned author or editor of over 20 books, including The Quest for Shakespeare, Tolkien: Man and Myth, and C. S. Lewis and The Catholic Church.

For more information, please visit www.christendom.edu.

March 18th, 2015The Mysterious Virtue of Detachmentby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Mat. 10:37)
These words of Jesus are about what the Church calls Detachment.

... which is not this
Detachment is a cold word, and implies that we can go through life with a Mr. Spock attitude toward people and things.  But that's not what Detachment means as a spiritual virtue.  Christians must always care, and care deeply, even to the point of self-sacrifice (as Jesus did), so Detachment is not a kind of clinical emotional distancing.

This is why I prefer the word Disinterest to Detachment.  But this word has problems, too, because most people think that to be "disinterested" is to be "uninterested", or bored.  As I wrote a while back ...

To be Disinterested is not to be uninterested.  To be disinterested means to have no claim on personal profit from a given situation.  We cannot love without being interested, but we must love for reasons other than our own selfish interest, otherwise it's not love.  

But what does this mean exactly?  Does this mean that we should put up with abusive relationships, remaining with people who take advantage of us or who treat us poorly?  Does this mean that employees should never negotiate with employers for better wages or for a share of the profits that they help generate?  Are we simply to give and give and give and ask nothing in return?

No, it does not mean that.  Detachment does not mean being a push-over or a floor mat.  In fact, even apostles spreading the gospel are to be Detached, and this Detachment means quite specifically not getting taken advantage of, not getting too wrapped up in anything, even in the success of your ministry.

And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. (Mark 6:11)

This is Detachment.  This is Disinterest, not taking a personal share of the interest or gain that is, after all, God's business.  Indeed, it is usually egotistical Attachment that allows people to take advantage of us.  This is especially true for actors, who are always seeking to please others and to become stars who are worshiped and adored, leading us to bend over backwards, to work for little or no pay, to put up with horrific treatment and abuse by directors and producers and grad school programs, to keep giving and giving because we're never Detached, always looking out to take a share of that Interest that is not rightly ours.

To be Disinterested means that we realize what Paul says ...

I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. (1 Cor. 3:6

The "increase" is not ours.  While the "laborer is worth his wages" (1 Tim. 5:18), and while human dignity and the dignity of work make a claim on just compensation (in business relationships), and while friendships must be based on a mutual giving (in personal relationships), the "increase" is nonetheless never our own.  We can't make anything happen.  This is at the heart of Faith vs. Works - all we have are gifts, even though we are required to work in order to develop those gifts and allow God to make them "grow" - for, no matter how hard we work, we, ourselves, can make nothing grow.  We can merely plant and water, but God gives the increase.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.  (Mat. 6:28)

Jesus here uses the same Greek word translated "grow" that Paul uses above, there translated as "increase".

But what does this have to do with ordinary life?

Well, a lot if you're an actor.  Because we actors tend to think that the magic that sometimes happens on stage or in film is of our own making, forgetting that our very talents are gifts and assuming that the good that these talents produce - the increase or growth - is ours and that this somehow means that we-are-god.

And so if you love show business (or another person, or anything else), you fail to practice Detachment or Disinterest when you (usually slyly and in hidden ways) start doing things to stroke your ego, feed your Hungry I, or establish yourself as the miraculous cause of growth and increase, seeking to become an idol to the thing you love.  We all tend to do this, even though, after all, we are mere instruments and can never be more than secondary causes, vehicles for God's grace.

Here's an example of Lack of Detachment in an actor.

***

He toured with Theater of the Word.  He was a good guy, but had little professional experience.  After almost every show he would moan, "I was horrible tonight!  I gave a terrible performance!"

"No," I would tell him, "You were about the same tonight as you were last night.   Your performance was adequate.  It was fine.  We got the check and nobody tried to kill us.  Stop worrying about it."

By contrast, those of us who perform (as I do) about 150 shows a year, and over a dozen different scripts don't get as emotionally involved in each performance.  We certainly want each performance to be our best, and we desperately love what we do and work very hard at it, but we don't see our time on stage as the crucial thing that makes us or breaks us as human beings.  We don't get our value defined by any particular thing we do onstage.  Like a baseball player who may lose today's game, there's always tomorrow.

We develop a kind of professional Detachment.  In fact, I'd venture to say that with expertise and practice a certain measure of Detachment always develops in every profession: surgeons, psychiatrists, roofers - every skill that you become adept at or that becomes your trade becomes somewhat automatic for you, as it should, for Detachment - Disinterest - is one of the things that sets a veteran apart from a rookie.

But when ego's involved, Detachment is tough.  And, to be honest, I'm just as guilty of Attachment as my rookie actor.  But when I am, it makes me miserable.  And when I'm guilty of Attachment in personal relationships, of clutching and grasping, of not wanting to let go of the Ring, or of whatever person or thing I feel "validates" me, I'm even more miserable, sometimes becoming obsessed or sulky, crabby or sleepless.

And yet we know, as actors, and as human beings - we always know at some level - that it's not about us.  Some of us plant, some of us water, but God gives the increase.  We may toil and spin, but the lilies we cultivate grow miraculously, of their own accord, by God's mysterious design.

And any time we forget that, and secretly and shamefully invest our talents so as to have the interest accrue directly to us, and not to God, to whom the interest is due, we are far from Disinterested, far from Detached.

So, misunderstood as the virtue is, let us pray this Lent for Detachment.



March 13th, 2015Podcast on the Catholic Literary Giantsby Joseph Pearce

A few weeks ago I did a taped interview on my book Catholic Literary Giants with Pete Socks, the “Catholic Book Blogger”. In the half hour interview we discussed many of the giants of the Catholic Revival, including especially Tolkien and Lewis. Here’s the link to the recently uploaded podcast:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/catholicbookblogger/2015/03/09/talking-catholic-literary-giants-with-joseph-pearce/

March 5th, 2015The Witness of Whittaker Chambersby Kevin Kennelly

In the 20th century, one of the turning points in the battle between the west and communism was the publication of Whittaker Chambers’ epic, Witness.  Chambers was an odd sort ....a journalist who turned from communism as he discovered faith ...... but he was , in the end,  a giant of man . He wrote: “Economics is not the central problem of this century. It is a relative problem which can be solved in relative ways. Faith is the central problem of our age.” The famed Father C J McCloskey ......delightful as always…...has written eloquently of Chambers and his epochal achievement in his recent article “A Man And A Book That Will Never Go Away.”

http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/witness.html

February 27th, 2015A Johnny Cash Lentby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

I'm over at The Catholic Gentleman today talking about Lent, Johnny Cash, and St. Augustine. It's just how I roll. 

If I could go back eleven years ago and talk to my younger self I’d give a lot of advice; “See a therapist, don’t stop taking your medication, and try to go for a walk once-in-a-while.” However, I think I’d more likely tell my young, idiot self, the wisdom of The Man in Black, “It takes a real man to live for God—a lot more man than to live for the devil.”

Read the rest here...http://www.catholicgentleman.net/2015/02/a-johnny-cash-lent/

February 26th, 2015Why Science Needs the Humanitiesby Joseph Pearce

Further to my most recent article for the Imaginative Conservative (What is Science?), in which I argued that true science (scientia) includes theology, philosophy, literature and history and the other liberal sciences (or arts), I was pleased to see this article in the Washington Post by a scientist who seems to essentially agree with such an understanding:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/02/18/we-dont-need-more-stem-majors-we-need-more-stem-majors-with-liberal-arts-training/

February 26th, 2015The Conversion of Jane Austen’s Emmaby Joseph Pearce

I very much enjoyed this article on the Christian vision of Jane Austen and thought that visitors to the Ink Desk would enjoy it too:

http://www.dominicanablog.com/2015/02/26/late-have-i-loved-thee-faithfulness-and-conversion-in-emma/

February 23rd, 2015Treason: Now on Audibleby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

Many of you may have already read StAR contributor Dena Hunt's Treason. For those who have not, it is now available as an audio book through Audible. As a subscriber, this now allows me to listen/read it a second time. You can buy the audio book at Amazon or Audible

As well, if you prefer the paperback, it is on sale at a special price through Sophia Institute Press

February 22nd, 2015A Little Lenten Storyby Dena Hunt

It’s about excess and about privation.

Today, some acquaintances and I went to another town to visit a priest who used to be in our parish, one we admired and loved. I’d had difficulty making petsitter arrangements and commented on that recurring problem.

“Dogs?” scoffed an elderly lady, widowed twice. “I don’t want any dogs, no pets, no responsibilities.” Understandable. She’s blessed with family and friends who love her a great deal, but at this point, being able to go anywhere anytime at will is what’s most important to her. I’ve seen this attitude in other elderly friends. It’s especially understandable if a mate suffered a long illness before passing, but even if that’s not the case, just having raised, more or less successfully, a number of children is cause for feeling that one deserves freedom from perceived “responsibility.” They’ve had excess of a kind and are more than ready for a little privation.

For some reason, the remark reminded me of a woman I knew many years ago. She was a spinster, weighed over 300 pounds; she was quite unattractive, and she was middle-aged. She also had a remarkably disagreeable personality. Perhaps I need to confess this to a priest (it wasn’t charitable), but when she cleared her throat and announced that she had decided to take a vow of chastity, it was hard to fight the impulse to smile. I wanted to say (but didn’t, thank heaven), “Debbie, that’s like me saying that I’ll give up meat for Lent.” (I’m a vegetarian.)

The connection between Debbie’s vow and the comment today by the elderly lady is, I admit, obscure. But it’s there. The pearls one woman discarded as excess another woman surrendered all hope of ever having for herself. Not even a single one.

What do we have in excess? Of what are we deprived? No question is trickier, more demanding of real self-honesty, to think about what our excesses and privations really are. My elderly friend saw her deceased husband, her children, as “responsibility” and she felt deprived of “freedom.” I won’t presume to examine that point for view in search of truth or virtue, but I can easily say it’s one I do not share. On the other hand, I knew that my 300-pound acquaintance was a romantic. At middle-age, to give up the fantasy I knew she’d long cherished, and to embrace a looming old age alone was a privation of monumental proportion.

And so, the “understandable” wish for freedom from a woman who had apparently never known that the responsibility she’d disdained was, in fact, the greatest human blessing, is actually, in my mind, quite pitiable. Because she has no opportunity now to learn from her experience. But Debbie’s vow, on the other hand, is just plain admirable. Perhaps it was even heroic. Only God knows.

 

What do we give up for Lent? And what do we take up? Whatever it is, let’s not tell anybody.

February 22nd, 2015How to Readby Dena Hunt

Joseph’s post (“How to Read Great Literature,” Feb. 15) reminded me of a mini-lecture I used to deliver to students at the beginning of Intro Lit, a course that met the humanities requirement of many students who were not English or Humanities majors. How does one wade through and comprehend literary texts when one hates reading even modern fast-paced thrillers? How does one find a purpose sufficient for motivation when one’s only real purpose is to somehow get through this course with a decent grade? Most of them were science/technology or business majors. I summarized Donald Hall’s classic “Four Ways to Read,” adding a twist by linking it to intellectual development.

First—We learn to read for information. This includes reading directions, recipes, phone books, etc. It also includes newspaper accounts of events. We scan, we read quickly, we appreciate brevity; we are looking for content only. This is the way we first learned to read. We wanted to find out what those letters meant. We had learned our alphabet and now we encountered letters put together to make words and the words meant something. This is reading for information.

Second—We read for recreation. We discovered that the words could take us on imaginary adventures, the same way movies do. Stories allow us to escape our surroundings and experience another reality, perhaps another identity. We are not reading for information, so we don’t think about the fact that our second way of reading is actually built on our first way.

Third—Then, in high school, we learned to analyze. This course irritated those who had learned to love reading for recreation. They were forced to dissect the text, look for metaphors and similes, analyze themes, and criticize, research (read for information) what critics had said about the material and summarize it. (“I used to love reading until I took Literature in high school.”) Our reaction is a consequence of having learned the first and second ways of reading. Analytical reading is where we first encounter ideas. Although it’s distasteful for those who demand subjective pleasure and despise objectivity, it is a critical stage of intellectual maturation, necessary for the next way of reading.

Fourth—This can be likened to a symphony. It’s reading in the totality of experience. We know what the “movements” are, the instruments, etc. This is not informational, recreational, analytical, reading. It’s reading as an experience—yet each stage of our development as readers is a necessary preparation for reading literature.

We get into trouble when we try to apply the wrong purpose to reading. It’s just as nonsensical to attempt reading literature quickly, scanning it for information (like the plot, maybe, in order to pass a test), as it is to attempt to read a phone book for literary pleasure. That is why C.S. Lewis admonishes a young reader in one of his letters always to “read aloud” in her head.

Donald Hall’s famous essay can be easily found online: Four Kinds of Reading.      

February 19th, 2015Pilgrim Journalby Dena Hunt

The intrepid young Bronwen McShea, Columbia history professor, has just notified me that a new Lenten edition of her online journal is up. If you have not yet visited PILGRIM: A Journal of Catholic Experience, you’re in for an enriching and perhaps surprising experience of excellent art, essays, poetry, and fiction:

www.pilgrimjournal.com

February 19th, 2015Hope in the Ashesby Joseph Pearce

I am gratified and humbled by the people with whom I am blessed to work at the St. Austin Review. Since StAR's official launch, four days before 9/11, I have been joined by a noble band of brothers and sisters in our shared labour of love to bring the evangelizing power of beauty to a world in desperate need of the presence of the Divine. Today I am especially honoured to highlight the work being done by StAR columnist, Fr. Benedict Kiely, to help the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. Here's a link to a recent news report on the charity that he's launched:

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/02/13/symbol-hope-for-persecuted-christians/ 

February 17th, 2015“Fifty Shades of Grey” and the Islamic Stateby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

"Lose Control" the poster says.


I think there is a connection between Fifty Shades of Grey and the Islamic State, and it's not the obvious one: the fact that devout Muslims, like devout Christians, would see sexual perversion and pornography as decadent and sinful.  No, there's something deeper than that.

Concerning Fifty Shades of Grey, I recently wrote to a friend of mine ...

The young secular women I know see absolutely nothing wrong with it.  It's porn with a story, which is the kind of porn women like.  [Men prefer their porn without a story; women prefer theirs with a story].
Having not seen it, I can only judge from what I'm hearing.  It is, first of all, shocking that perversion has become so mainstream that normal suburban young women get a thrill out of the degradation of women that BDSM portrays.  ... 
The movie also shows up the contradiction at the heart of liberalism.  The left wants both uninhibited lust and also respect for the dignity of women.  You can't have both.  You can't even have men with dignity under these conditions.

Of course, defenders of the movie say that the story is about a consensual relationship, that if a woman submits to being degraded and abused, it's OK as long as she does so willingly.

But that's exactly the point.  Masochism is thrilling because it's a form of willful submission.   It's like riding a roller coaster.  You can have the excitement of being swept up and down and side to side while being safely locked in to your seat.  The vacillations of the ride itself are beyond your control, but choosing to experience these thrills are within your control, and that bar is in place, giving you an assurance of safety.

It is that willful submission that is the key to the link with radical Islam.

***

Joseph Sciambria writes of how horrifying and pathological the real world of BDSM actually is, and Chris Hedges grapples with his disturbing realization that all pornography tends toward child porn, and is ultimately about not only the degradation of women, but about dehumanization and the abuse of the innocent, but both articles miss the allure that this sort of thing has, even for otherwise normal people.

Joseph Heschmeyer comes closer in arguing that Fifty Shades is a reaction against gender neutrality and an indication that young women are longing for men who take control, even if that control is expressed as sadism.  And here Graeme Wood comes the closest, while not writing on Fifty Shades at all, ending his long piece on the Islamic State by quoting from George Orwell ...

Fascism ... is psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.


The emotional appeal of the radicals of the Islamic State is that they take their religion seriously, and that it is a religion that calls for radical submission and that promises both a temporal and an eternal fulfillment.  It is a religion that appeals to a deep need in human nature.  It is a religion of black and white, with zero shades of gray.

But what we are learning from the soccer moms who masturbate to BDSM porn-with-a-story is that it's not the gray that appeals to them emotionally.  It's something of a far darker and a far deeper shade.  It is something, in fact, that would not be dark, nor would it be deeply buried, if it were properly channeled and worked out in the world.

This masochistic urge, this desire willfully to place ourselves in a situation where our will is limited and constrained, is deeply and mysteriously connected to submission (which is what the word "Islam" means), to the desire to humble oneself before something or someone greater.  When that need is frustrated, it turns very dark, and men like Hitler and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - and the fictional Christian Grey - take advantage of it.

For when we have no god to submit to, and no men to admire, the world slides from gray to black very quickly.


February 17th, 2015What is Science?by Joseph Pearce

Why is scientism unscientific? Why is Aristotle right about science and why is modernity wrong? These and a host of other questions are asked and hopefully answered in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/02/science.html

February 17th, 2015A Little of Lothlorien in the Heart of Barcelonaby Joseph Pearce

There's a good and thought-provoking article by Cardinal Pell in the UK Catholic Herald about Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona:

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/february-13th-2015/the-church-that-fills-me-with-hope-for-europe/

I had a private tour of this wonderful basilica last year and, like Pell, was converted by its theological and aesthetic charm from my previously skeptical position. I have a couple of books on the architect, Antoni Gaudi, a devout Catholic. His vision might best be described as elvish, in the sense that he endeavours to express the organic life of the Church in his eschewing of straight lines and strict geometry in favour of the arboreal. The interior looks almost like an ossified Lothlorien, with tree-like columns ascending to the heavens. There is also an abundance of profound symbolism to the whole design. Agreeing with His Eminence, I see this truly edifying edifice as a symbol of Europe's resurrection.

February 16th, 2015Gerald Ford and Kenneth Clarkby Daniel J. Heisey

In Conservatism (1956) Peter Viereck noted that British thinkers tend to see conservatism as “an inarticulate state of mind.”  He explained, “The liberal and rationalist mind consciously articulates abstract blueprints; the conservative mind unconsciously incarnates concrete traditions.”  Although Viereck did not cite him, Stanley Baldwin summed up this view by saying, “I would rather trust a woman’s instinct than a man’s reason.”

In twentieth-century American political history, Gerald Ford (1913-2006) represented that inarticulate frame of mind, not only because as a boy he dealt with a stammer or as an adult could not pronounce certain words, so that, for example, professors and other intellectuals were to Ford “acamedicians.”  The United States’ thirty-eighth President knew he was not eloquent, and he liked a line written for him:  “I am a Ford, not a Lincoln.”

In his memoir, A Time to Heal (1979), Ford was candid about his dependence upon speechwriters, but his inarticulate conservatism emerged most clearly in that book when he found that the best way to convey his core beliefs was to quote someone else.  That statement of his basic principles occurs a few hundred pages into the book, and it comes from an English art historian.

“Conservatism has always meant more to me,” wrote Ford, “than simply sticking up for private property and free enterprise,” and he added, “It has also meant defending our heritage and preserving our values.”  Ford then quoted approvingly Kenneth Clark’s closing remarks in Civilisation (1969):

 

At this point I reveal myself in my true colours, as a stick-in-the-mud. . . . I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction.  I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta.  On the whole, I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology.  I believe that in spite of the recent triumphs of science, men haven’t changed much in the last two thousand years, and in consequence, we must still try to learn from history. . . . Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible.

 

Earlier in A Time to Heal, Ford had described his boyhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the discipline instilled by his parents.  They had, he recalled, “three rules:  tell the truth, work hard, and come to dinner on time—and woe unto any of us who violated those rules.”  Douglas Brinkley, in his concise biography of Ford, noted that Ford was an Eagle Scout and always adhered to those three rules.  “That wasn’t a sophisticated philosophy,” Brinkley conceded, “but he wasn’t that sophisticated a guy.”

Yet, Ford, Yale-educated lawyer that he was, astutely discerned that whereas his disgraced predecessor had hammered on about “law and order,” Ford ought to remind people of the Constitution’s mandate “to insure domestic tranquility.”  According to Ford, insuring domestic tranquility meant making sure citizens were secure in their persons and property, free from fear of crime.  It also meant easing their tax burden and letting them decide how best to spend and invest more of their hard-earned money.

In May, 1976, George F. Will wrote in his column in Newsweek that “Ford is the most conservative President since [Calvin] Coolidge,” but while Coolidge was taciturn and laconic, “Ford is the most inarticulate President since the invention of broadcasting.”  In A Time to Heal, Ford had other journalists in mind and noted, “I kept reading in the press that I was the most conservative President since Herbert Hoover.”  It therefore baffled Ford that conservative Republicans were never content with his policies, and he wondered whether some of them, regardless of his own words and deeds, would ever be pleased with anything.

As Brinkley put it, Ford “was always a Midwest conservative with a healthy skepticism about the power of government to fundamentally change people’s lives for the better,” and related to that conservative skepticism “was his libertarian belief that the government should stay out of the boardroom, the classroom, and the bedroom.”

That libertarian streak in Ford’s thinking informed his opinion regarding what during his Presidency was becoming a major political issue, abortion.  Ford came from an era when decent people did not discuss such matters in public, and as President he approached the topic with reluctance.  “While I opposed abortion on demand,” he wrote, “I also opposed a constitutional amendment that would prohibit it.”  To him the most sensible solution was a compromise whereby a constitutional amendment would allow each state to decide the question.  He seems not to have seen the issue as being solely about a baby’s right to life.

Still, in a new age of bombast and narcissism, someone interested in preserving continuity with the biblical and classical past can find much to admire in Ford’s reticent and intuitive beliefs.  As Ford understood, Kenneth Clark’s comments could become a manifesto for cultural conservatives.  The stick-in-the-mud ideals Ford loved but could best put into words by using the words of another man will appeal to many more as common sense.

Although critics and comedians thought Ford came across as dull and even dim, he was a determined and athletic man, his broad shoulders developing from football and boxing.  During the Second World War, he saw combat in the Pacific as a Navy officer, and after the war he served twelve terms in Congress.  In his rare leisure hours and especially in retirement, if rain kept him off the golf course or the ski slopes, a pleasant day at home with his golden retriever, some Field and Stream pipe tobacco, and a book by Louis L’Amour suited him just fine.

All the while, for him, faith and family came first, and from such a reserved gentleman it comes as a surprise that more than once in A Time to Heal he described that when he and his wife, Betty, went to bed, they would then hold hands and pray.  In 1973, for Ford’s inauguration as Vice President, his son, Mike, bought a Jerusalem Bible for his father, and Ford and his wife chose Psalm 20 as the text to which it should be open when he was sworn in.

When Ford narrowly lost the 1976 presidential election, he tried to console a friend by assuring him, “there are more important things to worry about than what’s going to happen to Jerry Ford.”  Ford was gratified when his own deeper yet unformed thoughts were articulated by his son, Jack:  “If you can’t lose as graciously as you had planned to win, then you shouldn’t have been in the thing in the first place.”  Kenneth Clark would have agreed.

 

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 S

February 15th, 2015How to Read Great Literatureby Joseph Pearce

Over the past few years I've been teaching on-line courses for Homeschool Connections. I am currently in the midst of teaching a course on The Merchant of Venice, having previously taught courses on Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet and King Lear. In late June and early July I'll be teaching one of the courses in the Homeschool Connections Summer School. My course will be on "How to Read Great Literature" and will look at the literary techniques employed in great works, such as the Iliad, the Odyssey, Beowulf, the Divine Comedy, the Canterbury Tales, the plays of Shakespeare, and the works of Tolkien, Lewis, Hopkins and Eliot. The course is open to people of all ages. Please follow this link for further details: 

http://homeschoolconnectionsonline.blogspot.com/2015/02/online-summer-school-2015.html

February 12th, 2015When the Devils Winby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



I had just come from an experience that preyed upon me in ways that are hard to describe.  I had seen a common sight - the true Faith knocked down and a false one set mockingly in its place.  I often see this at suburban Masses, but today I saw it up close, outside of Mass.  I won't go into details, but it had disturbed me.

At any rate, I was walking and feeling better, but something was nagging at me, a little devil, the kind of devil who has gained the world but lost his soul.  Devils who do this get very smug.  If you show any kind of faith around them, they smile condescendingly at your naivety.  If you show any kind of enthusiasm, they patiently endure your childishness.  They sneer at hope, since the only emotion for the truly sophisticated is a tired cynical ennui.  Belief and trust in anything is simply the symptom of immaturity and a lack of education, you see.

And, of course, the world drags you down on its own.  We don't even need the help of devils.  The daily and hourly grinding away of inertia, the assault of selfishness that persists at every waking moment - the persistent selfishness of others and the stunning and dumbfounding selfishness we find in our own hearts, if we admit it.

I was walking and rehearsing my lines.  I am appearing in six different productions in the next six weeks and I have to keep my lines fresh, and the best way for me to do that is to go on hikes in the woods or long walks in the city and recite my lines aloud.  Today I was in the city, and I found myself beside a Mormon church, sitting high on a hill above the sidewalk.

And that's just another mild assault.  On the one hand, the Mormon faith is outlandish, contrived, ridiculous, clearly made-up; on the other, Mormons are very concerned about their families and have held to Catholic teaching on the sinfulness of pornography, masturbation and contraception far better than Catholics have.  Weird as they are, they are generally good people - but ... but there's something creepy about that church on that hill, about that belief; something creepy about that devil who smirks at my faith and who sees no difference between the shocking thunderbolt of the New Testament and the L. Ron Hubbard-ish inanity of the Book of Mormon.

And the sky was gray and the neighborhood in decline.  The older houses are sometimes abandoned and even the Protestant churches are closing and consolidating due to lack of attendance - but who can be fed at these Protestant churches?  Who can be fed at most Catholic Masses, the way they're typically run?  And that big Mormon church up on that hill - that big ugly Mormon church and the who-knows-what is going on in there.  Is this where all faith leads - was Freud right that all religion was an illusion, moronic wishful thinking?  Or is it worse even than Freud imagined - far from stretching our souls even by means of a wish and a desire to embrace the truth, beauty and goodness that is all about us and that transcends us, does religion actually drag us down, fill our heads with soporific condolences that are, in truth, ugly bulky lies that do nothing but burden us and blind us?

All religions are the same, after all, aren't they?  They are all equally true - which is a kind of way of saying they are all equally false.  "Believe" if it helps you; "to believe" is an intransitive verb, isn't it?  It doesn't matter what you believe in - just believe. We all need help, after all - drink, drugs, sex, power, money.  Even love is false, or that stirring of hormones and chemicals that we call love.  Just keep on keeping on as the universe itself slowly winds down and all things in it swirl with a funny sucking sound down the eternal drain of existence.  If there is a God, he pulled the plug out long ago.

Above all, be nice - even to those people who take good things and twist them to their own uses.  Because that's all any of us does with anything, isn't it?

As all these thoughts were passing through my head, as I glanced at the ugly Mormon church high above me, I said aloud a line from a special on J.R.R. Tolkien that I'm about to film at EWTN (one of the six shows I'm performing in the next six weeks) ...

The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. Its head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used. 
Suddenly, caught by the level beams [of the setting sun], Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. “Look, Sam!” he cried, startled into speech. “Look! The king has got a crown again!”
The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.
“They cannot conquer for ever!” said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone. The Sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the shuttering of a lamp, black night fell. 


They cannot conquer forever.




February 12th, 2015Is Britain Dead?by Joseph Pearce

The question is asked and answered in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/02/false-gods-godlessness-islamic-corruption-death-great-britain.html

February 12th, 2015The Feminine Principle, cont.by Dena Hunt

Continuing the discussion (February 2nd) of the destruction of the feminine principle of Being by the masculine principle of Doing, I should mention again the absolute necessity of balance and harmony of those two modes of all existence. Nature, indeed all of life, depends on it.  Ironically, the abstraction is easier to grasp for less intellectual, more agrarian cultures than for our modern more sophisticated times. Only when we recognize that this balance goes all the way back to pre-mythology of mother-earth and father-heaven can we understand the cataclysm of its destruction.

As the civilizer of the western world and most of the eastern as well, the Church introduced and then maintained the feminine principle among savage warrior-tribes, not only by means of the cult of the Blessed Virgin, but also in its own theology, spirituality, and moral code. Right conduct, both public and private, was established. “Gentlemen” (not meant to signify gentry, but behavior) defended and protected children and women, who personified—or tried to—the virtues of modesty, meekness, humility, virtues now lost as a consequence of the discarding of the feminine principle.

It is both useless and false to blame feminism (radical or otherwise) for this disaster. As already mentioned, feminism is a reaction to the destruction of the feminine principle, not its cause. The more immediate cause was identified by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968, but the remote cause dates from the sixteenth century, when civilization set out on a path toward its own inevitable end. Its progress has been steady.

Now we watch as the masculine principle, unfettered by any straggling remains of inhibition, demonstrates collective insanity in the Middle East. It is a reiteration of the hyper-masculine rebirth of the Germanic “warrior” seventy-plus years ago, and the raised fist of revolution in Russia, and in France, and other sites. Commentators on the news channels often seem to feel almost compelled to draw comparisons between the on-going brutal terrorism in the Middle East and the Nazism of almost recent memory. Not surprisingly, the former bears as much hatred for Jews as the latter, with Christianity as a close second, for the Judaeo-Christian God has ever borne a concern for the weak and helpless, for widows and orphans—in short, for the feminine principle. Atheistic secular devotion to human “progress” (a modern expression of pagan phallic self-worship) will always find that concern a stumbling block, unable to see that its antithesis saves it from its own self-destruction.

It is worth repeating too that the feminine principle cannot save itself because to act would be a contradiction of itself and thus its own self-destruction (e.g., feminism). As the passive element, it cannot save but must be saved by the active element. How? That can only be answered by the Gentlemen of the world, if any there are. Certainly, the first step would be to recognize that the Church must be allowed the salvific influence she alone possesses. By “Church,” I do mean the Holy Roman Catholic one. Protestantism is riddled with the anti-femininity that helped engender it. (Granting “rights” to women to fill male ecclesial roles is not a pro-femininity action. Quite the opposite, in fact.) That’s all I know. Except for faithful adherence to the Church and all her (ever notice that pronoun?) teachings, I have no idea how to save nature, the children, or civilization—all now steadily and surely dying from exploitation, from neglect, and from abandonment.

It is the business of the feminine principle to nurture, support, sustain. What prompted this meditation was the news today of the murder of the young humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller by her Islamic terrorist captors as she tried to nurture, support, and sustain Syrian refugees. CBS reports that she was given to an ISIS fighter as a “bride.” Then she was discarded.

We need heroes. And gentlemen. The feminine principle everywhere needs the masculine principle to be about its own business.

February 12th, 2015White Gloves and Methodismby Kevin Kennelly

If the attached picture were given a title it might be  "Civilization." Ladies in white gloves and gentlemen ( GENTLEMEN!) coming out of church .... that's what people used to do ,before football took over, on Sunday morning. While I am Catholic , my sainted mother was a Methodist and I will be forever grateful for the beauty of spirit that once great Christian church instilled in her. Can they get it back ? Oremus.

See the attached image and the article here: http://juicyecumenism.com/2015/01/28/fifty-years-since-methodism-grew-in-america/

February 9th, 2015Hobbits, Elves and Menby Joseph Pearce

The latest Tolkien Special that I've written and presented for EWTN is now available for purchase on DVD. It's an hour long feast celebrating the Catholicism to be found in Tolkien's masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. Featuring the acting talents of Kevin O'Brien, the artistic gifts of Jef Murray, and the production and editing skills of the team at EWTN, this latest DVD, the third that we've recorded, is entitled Hobbits, Elves and Men.

Here's the link to the DVD on the EWTN's website:

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

February 9th, 2015Storm Troopers of Secularism: Lessons for Today from the Nazi Pastby Joseph Pearce

The next issue of the St. Austin Review is winging its way to the printers. The theme of the March/April issue is “Storm Troopers of Secularism: Lessons for Today from the Nazi Past”.

Highlights include:

M. D. Aeschliman revisits “the German Tragedy” and its “Dissociation of Sensibility”.

Paul Baxa focuses on “The Hitler Visit to Rome in 1938”.

Stephen Brady pays tribute to “Otto Strasser: Catholic Radical and Hitler’s Number One Enemy”.

Brendan D. King hears “The Confession of Hannibal Lecter: Nazism, Extreme Nationalism and Kazimierz Moczarski’s Conversations with an Executioner”.

George J. Galloway recounts Franz Werfel’s encounter with Saint Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes, praising “A Jew’s Promise to a Catholic Saint”.

Tod Worner contrasts the swastika and the crucifix, “Twisted Cross, True Cross”.

Joseph Pearce surveys “Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church”, showing “The Truth at a Glance”.

John Beaumont examines “The Conversion of Dietrich von Hildebrand: A Doughty Fighter against the Nazis”.  

Fr. Dwight Longenecker looks at “Lewis in Wartime”.

Sr. John Paul Maher, OP, is “Beholding the Woman: Meeting Mary in Sacred Art”.

Ken Clark admires “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz” by El Greco.

Kevin O’Brien learns from “Eric Voegelin and the Masters of Reality”.

Fr. Benedict Kiely laments “Europe’s Uncertain Values”.

Donald DeMarco hearkens to the beauty “When Heaven and Earth Meet” in the genius of Yehudi Menuhin.

James Bemis praises D. W. Griffith’s classic movie, Intolerance.

Portia Hopkins reviews Beauteous Truth by Joseph Pearce.

Jay B. reviews Defending Marriage by Anthony Esolen.

Philip J. Harold reviews My Battle Against Hitler by Dietrich von Hildebrand.

Regis Martin reviews Let’s Not Forget God: Freedom of Faith, Culture, and Politics by Cardinal Angelo Scola.

Plus New Poetry by F. Dwight Longenecker, Ann Applegarth and Gene Fendt.

February 9th, 2015R. H. Benson versus G. K. Chestertonby Joseph Pearce

I've received an e-mail from a high school principal asking my advice on whether R. H. Benson's Lord of the World would be suitable reading for his senior honors classes as a theology text. Here's my response:

I love Lord of the World but I have mixed feelings about whether it should be a set text for high school students. It's very dark and could be misread as being defeatist, in the sense that the secular/demonic forces appear to emerge victorious and are only defeated offstage, i.e. after the novel's end, by a deus ex machina, i.e. the Apocalypse. I know that you would prevent a misreading but I'm still concerned that spiritually and emotionally immature teenagers could see the book as suggestive of the world's omnipotence and the Church's impotence. A more theologically uplifting work of fiction, me judice, would be Chesterton's Ball and the Cross.

February 6th, 2015Church or State: Who Should Genuflect to Whom?by Joseph Pearce

A friend has sent me a photograph of representatives of the Orthodox Church opening the Greek Parliament. He described this as an "effective merger of state and church" which "does not speak well for Greek Orthodoxy". I begged to differ.

Here's my response:

This is a complex topic. We don't want the Church to be in the pocket of the government but we do want the government to be answerable to the truths of the Church. I see nothing wrong with the Church opening parliament because it merely shows that the source all authority is God. A far greater problem is that of the Catholic Church in Germany, which is rich (and corrupt) because of state funding. It's no surprise that the German Church is secularized when it has become dependent on hand-outs from the secular government. It is, therefore, no surprise that the present modernism, seeking to change the Church's teaching on marriage so that it conforms to secular values, is being championed by Cardinal Kasper and the German bishops.

The moral is that we take the world's money at our peril. Look, for instance, at the way that so-called Catholic colleges in the United States are dancing to the secular tune in order to qualify for secular funding.  

To summarize, I see no problem with the secular power genuflecting before the Bride of Christ (as is the case with a constitution in which the Church opens parliament) and a huge problem with the Bride of Christ, or more correctly her wayward apostles, genuflecting before the secular power. 

February 6th, 2015Fiction Prizeby Dena Hunt

It’s that time again. Tuscany Press offers prizes for unpublished Catholic fiction. See the link below. Over $13,000 waiting to be won.

http://tuscanypress.us5.list-manage.com/track/click?u=d6d61078b9844af039931a32e&id=4af115c78d&e=18e1709fc4

February 2nd, 2015The Feminine Principleby Dena Hunt

I’ve written on this topic before, so if I am a bit tedious, I apologize.

"Everything is like sex, except sex.” That’s an expression I’ve heard more than once. Literally everything in nature, everything in the physical world (and the spiritual, as far as the human imagination can muster), whether created by God or man—is like sex. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis, is universal: The positive (active, male) and the negative (passive, female) are united and something/someone new is made. At its most elemental, pre-mythological level, earth is soil, watered by heaven, to bring forth life. From there, allegories emerge.

Only superficially are we androgynous beings. Proven by the discovery of gender-determining chromosomes at conception (not “created” later by societal or cultural “influences”), we are born either male or female; there is no neuter anywhere in nature or in science. Neuter is impotent (“dead.”)

Most of us are familiar with the “serenity prayer” made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (the feminine principle), the courage to change the things I can (the masculine principle), and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s a good formula for mental health. Chronic unhappiness, depression, or anxieties that lead to all kinds of addiction can often be resolved by an examination of that formula, by finding where we are trying to be serene when action is required, or trying to be active where serenity is required, and thus perhaps attain wisdom. 

But I could probably fill a page with clichés that describe the confusion of our times—“road rage” that results from unwillingness to “go with the flow [of traffic],” for example. Frustrations, anger, aggression—“control freak”—and yet we are admonished by commercials and psa’s, and all sorts of advice at every turn to “take charge” of our lives/weight/health/future/whatever. Politically, we’re always trying to “empower” people. We live in a time when the masculine principle is universally admired and the feminine principle is universally despised. In fact, that which is feminine is regarded as deprivation. The very title of “The Female Eunuch” assumes that the opposite of masculine is neuter. There is masculinity—and then there is deprivation of masculinity.

The feminine principle has nothing to do with feminism—except that you could say the latter is a consequence of the destruction of the former. Feminism is not an action, but a reaction. It’s not a cause. It didn’t come out of nowhere. It wasn’t a result of men going off to war (they’ve always done that), or any other theoretical bit of non-explanation. Men ceased to value women, and women are dependent on men for their value as women. It’s really that simple, that devastating.

In the early seventies, Florida became a no-fault divorce state. I had just returned from Europe where I’d lived for five years. I remember walking down three blocks of a street in Orlando and encountering two parked cars with children in them, along with what appeared to be personal belongings. The vast majority of the destitute in the U.S. were abandoned wives and children, many of whom were living in parked cars. The number of hungry and homeless women and children was incalculable. To be mistreated or abused is bad, but it’s a remediable situation. To be discarded, literally thrown away, is irremediable. Feminism emerged out of necessity.

The twentieth century faced the worst wars in human history, all of which, despite incredible cost of lives, eventually ended (one can hardly claim any war “won.”) That which happened on the surface of history, horrific as it was, is no match for the catastrophe that befell humanity under the surface: As a seed planted by widespread “Enlightened” Protestantism, secularism grew quietly under the surface, and traditional lifelong (Catholic-in-origin) marriage disappeared while no one was watching. It survived longest in cultures where Catholicism dominated, but not in northern Europe, or the United States, and finally not anywhere. Contraception followed, and, as the night follows day, so did abortion.

In the sundering of the feminine and masculine unity, the feminine principle, as the passive element, was discarded, abandoned. It cannot, by its definition, save itself—it must be saved. It was not. Yet on that principle all natural life depends. Nothing is more allegorically accurate for our time than abortion. Now, hardly anyone knows what the feminine principle is. It’s best understood by these words:

   “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” 

February 2nd, 2015More Big-Hearted Big Businessby Joseph Pearce

A few weeks ago I posted the link to a wonderful TV commercial for a grocery chain in the UK celebrating the Christmas Truce in the Trenches of World War One. Today I'm delighted to post another commercial by a big-hearted big business, this time Pampers, which celebrates the joy of life, especially the joy of openness to life:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HWxiDsGenk

February 2nd, 2015Looking for God in King Learby Joseph Pearce

I received this e-mail from a friend about the apparent lack of God in Shakespeare. The text of the e-mail is given here in italics. My response follows.

 

Was watching King Lear the other night and it hit me as wondrous how little there is of God in Shakespeare..... Certainly ,  He is lurking in the background in the guise of death, life, joy , tragedy, despair , mystery, etc ...but.... it is not overt. I thought "I'll run this by Joseph. He'll know." But then I thought ... better think this through .... might be a stupid question . Then.... I pick up Flowers From Heaven:A Thousand Years of Christian Verse by the venerable Pearce and .... mirabile dictu .... not one entry by Shakespeare. So.... what gives?

My reply:

 

Shakespeare's work is profoundly Catholic, though not overtly so, and King Lear is one of the most Catholic of his plays. The problem is two-fold. First, it was illegal in Jacobean England to present contemporary religious or political issues on the stage, and doubly illegal to say anything positive about Catholicism. Not wishing to have his plays banned and himself thrown in prison, Shakespeare was constrained to be circumspect and ingeniously subtle. Imagine someone in Stalin's Soviet Union trying to praise the West and you'll have some idea of Shakespeare's challenge to present the truth in tyrannical times. Second, most modern productions of Lear, including presumably the one that you watched recently, are poisoned by the nihilistic spin that modern producers and directors place upon it.

 

I have written extensively on the Catholic dimension in Lear: There are four chapters on Lear (chapters 22-25) in my book Through Shakespeare's Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays. I edited the Ignatius Critical Edition of King Lear, which includes an excellent introduction by R. V. Young and six contemporary critical essays, including one by yours truly ("King Lear: Seeing the Comedy in the Tragedy"). I also lecture on Lear in the series of lectures on Shakespeare's Catholicism that I did for Catholic Courses and devote a couple of episodes to Lear in the second of The Quest for Shakespeare series that I did for EWTN. Finally, I've just finished a course on Lear for Homeschool Connections, the recording of which is available.  

 

Why is there nothing by Shakespeare in my anthology, Flowers of Heaven: One Thousand Years of Christian Verse? Well, first I decided that I would not include extracts from plays and would stick resolutely to verse written as verse; second, Shakespeare's sonnets and other poems are either not religious at all or else, as is the case with "The Phoenix and the Turtle" and several of the sonnets, the religious element is subsumed (and Catholic), not obvious to modern readers without appropriate critical exposition. Since the anthology did not include such exposition, I decided (reluctantly) to omit them from the final selection.

 

I hope this helps.

February 2nd, 2015Tolkien, Trees and Traditionby Joseph Pearce

What do Tolkien, trees and tradition have in common, apart from the fact that they alliterate? All is revealed in my latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/02/tolkien-trees-tradition.html

January 30th, 2015A Lesson from Thomas Mertonby Daniel J. Heisey

It seems more and more people are living to be a hundred, and if he were alive, Thomas Merton would this year be among them.  Merton (1915-1968) remains the most famous Christian monk of the twentieth century, and his writings will engage scholars and others for some time to come.  His fame began in 1948, when his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, became an unexpected best-seller.  In England it was published as Elected Silence, a phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “The Habit of Perfection.”

Once he had made the best-seller lists, readers and publishers wanted more.  Fortunately for them, Merton was a gifted and prolific writer, turning out essays, poems, translations, and book-length musings on the spiritual life.  In the decades since his sudden death at an international monastic conference in Bangkok, Thailand, several volumes of his private journals and letters have been published.

By the mid-1960s, Merton had begun exploring controversial topics.  He wrote about points where Zen Buddhism and Roman Catholicism might connect, especially in the area of monastic spirituality, and he addressed the era’s turbulence over race, poverty, and war.  These later writings have become favorites of activists for social change, while this same phase of his life has left others suspecting Merton of groovy syncretism.  Yet, at the time of his death he had at the press a slim book on contemplative prayer that fit in well with his early work, back when one of his first admirers was Fulton Sheen.

Since Merton’s centenary coincides with the Church’s Year of Consecrated Life, let us consider a passage from his early thirties.  In December, 1947, Merton noted in his journal the death of Brother Gregory, an elderly native of Switzerland.  Merton published that journal in 1952 as The Sign of Jonas.

“Brother Gregory,” Merton wrote, “was a saintly old man,” and Merton asked their abbot what had made the departed brother so holy.  “I don’t know what kind of answer I was hoping to get,” Merton admitted.  “It would have made me happy to hear something about a deep and simple spirit of prayer, something about unsuspected heights of faith, purity of heart, interior silence, solitude, love for God.  Perhaps he had spoken with the birds, like Saint Francis.”

Instead, the abbot replied, “Brother was always working,” and he added, “Brother did not even know how to be idle.  If you sent him out to take care of the cows in the pasture, he still found plenty to do.  He brought in buckets of blackberries.  He did not know how to be idle.”  Merton was crestfallen.  “I came out of Reverend Father’s room,” he recorded, “feeling like a man who has missed his train.”

Serving God and neighbor is the essence of the vocation of a religious brother.  It is, of course, the basic vocation that goes along with Christian baptism, and religious vows build upon and reinforce those baptismal vows.  The spirituality of brothers focuses on the example of the Holy Family’s hidden life of Nazareth.  Thus, Brother Gregory’s obscurity:  he is known only from the writings of a now famous priest who had met him.

Probably the most famous religious brother is the fictional Brother Cadfael, first appearing in the late 1970s.  According to his creator, Ellis Peters, he was an early twelfth-century Welshman who fought in the First Crusade and then entered a Benedictine abbey in western England.  There he tended the monastery’s medicinal herb garden and solved crimes.

Next to him in name recognition would be the real-life Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (Nicolas Herman, c. 1605-1691), a Carmelite friar in Paris.  There he worked in his monastery’s kitchen and is best known for his spiritual observations posthumously compiled under the title The Practice of the Presence of God.

Despite the perennial popularity of that little book, Brother Lawrence has not joined the ranks of canonized brothers.  Most recent among canonized brothers is Brother André Bessette (1845-1937) of Canada, and others include Majorca’s Alphonsus Rodriguez (1532-1617) and Bavaria’s Conrad of Parzham (1818-1894).  As it happens, all three served their religious communities as porters.  Saint Alphonsus, a Jesuit, has been commemorated in a sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Saint Conrad’s canonization in 1934 was a big event for the young Ratzinger boys, Georg and Joseph.

If priests are the Church’s fathers, religious brothers are the Church’s bachelor uncles.  Over the years brothers have been characterized by plain and even at times blunt speech, while also being known for reticence and a great capacity for inner stillness.  Tragically, religious brothers have not all been paragons of virtue:  one need only recall reports of a number of Christian Brothers in Ireland preying upon teenage and pre-teenage boys.  Nevertheless, as the presence of saintly brothers demonstrates, the vocation of brother can be a way to holiness.  If it were not, the Church would have suppressed it ages ago.

Once again the Church faces a shortage of vocations, and so the faithful ought to pray for an increase in vocations to the religious brotherhood.  Time and again one senses that a prayer “for priests and religious” really means “for priests and nuns.”  There is another way, as much a “little way” as that of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a way first marked out for men by Saint Joseph, the chaste and silent carpenter of Nazareth.  It is a contemplative way, yet for that reason it stands at the service of others, prayerfully doing the day’s work without any fanfare.

Sometimes one hears of a man who had entered religious life but then left, having discerned that priesthood was not for him.  One wonders whether the possibility of being a religious brother was ever presented to him.  Perhaps God was calling him to belong to a particular religious community, but not to the priesthood.  During vocation visits and religious formation, a healthy approach would be to remain open to seeing that option as both viable and respectable.  After all, the primary purpose of religious life is to provide someone with a way to sanctification.

Although he may never be among the officially canonized, Brother Gregory of Gethsemani answered God’s call to struggle along that hidden path to holiness.  One of Merton’s finest books is No Man Is an Island (1955), and Brother Gregory showed by his simple yet active life that Christian holiness has less to do with mastering encyclicals and esoteric concepts such as apophatic prayer than considering that one’s time is better spent thinking that others might like some fresh blackberries.

 

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.

January 30th, 2015The Best Biographies of William Shakespeareby Joseph Pearce

I'm in receipt of an e-mail from someone who has read my biography, The Quest for Shakespeare, and is keen to investigate the evidence for Shakespeare's Catholicism still further. She requested other biographies of the Bard that I would recommend. Here's my reply:

The biography of Shakespeare I would recommend above all others is The Life and Times of William Shakespeare, 1564-1616 by Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel (London: Chaucer Press, 2007). Unfortunately it's not cheap but it's a very handsome coffee table book with numerous illustrations throughout and 400 pages packed with solid scholarship.

Others that I would recommend:

John Henry De Groot, The Shakespeares and "The Old Faith" (Fraser, Michigan: Real-View Books, 1995). An excellent and thorough examination of Shakespeare's family, especially his parents, and the documentary evidence for their Catholic recusancy.

H. Mutschmann & K. Wentersdorf, Shakespeare & Catholicism (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1952). This is not strictly a biography but a scholarly study of the evidence for Shakespeare' Catholicism from both the biographical and the textual perspective.

Ian Wilson, Shakespeare: The Evidence (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1999). A solid biographical study that comes to the conclusion that Shakespeare was a Catholic. (Not to be confused with another biography by a Richard Wilson, which is problematic for a number of reasons.)

January 28th, 2015Finding Freedom in My Prison Cell: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Loveby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

Over at Catholic Exchange, Joseph Pearce recounts his time and prison and how it finally led him into the Grace of God. It's quite the beautiful reading and well worth your time. 

Many good and worthy people in the past have found the experience of imprisonment a crucial and definitive period on their road towards faith and religious conversion, or as a means of deepening an already existing faith. Saint John of the Cross springs to mind, as does Miguel Cervantes, and the great Nicolae Steinhardt, whose book on his time in prison is called The Happiness Diary. We could also add the French poet, Paul Verlaine, the Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, and the iconic Russian Nobel Prizewinner, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

As was the case with these illustrious figures, my own experience of prison exemplified the paradox that prison can be a liberator. It can free us from ourselves and our pride-ridden prejudices. In many ways, prison serves as a metaphor for the role and purpose of suffering in our lives, which is to remind us of our mortality and prompt us to ask deep questions about the meaning of life, suffering and death. Prison can serve as a memento mori pointing us toward the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven and hell.

Read the rest here: http://catholicexchange.com/finding-freedom-prison-cell-journey-racial-hatred-rational-love

January 28th, 2015Love vs. Nihilism in “King Lear”by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Yours truly overacting as King Lear.


Over at the Christian Shakespeare, I've been given permission to reprint an essay from Logos by Shakespeare scholar Ken Colston on how sacrificial love redeems nihilism in Shakespeare's King Lear.  Colston sees Lear as a fully Catholic play, and unpacks its Christian elements, using C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton and Pope Benedict.

Well worth the read!

January 27th, 2015Selective Reading List for Catholic Inquirersby Kevin Kennelly

A wise and scholarly friend recently drafted a superb list of books for use in responding to individuals who have expressed an interest in Catholicism. Included are Catholic classics of old ....Apologia Pro Vita Sua.....and excellent works of more recent vintage.....'Literary Converts' by Joseph Pearce.

We encourage readers to add their own favorites to this excellent but not exhaustive list.

 

SELECTIVE READING LIST FOR CATHOLIC INQUIRERS

 

  • St. Augustine of Hippo (former Manichean), Confessions; City of God (c. 5th century A.D., ‘in print’ for centuries).  
  • Bl. John Henry Newman (former Anglican), Apologia pro Vita Sua (1865); Development of Christian Doctrine (1845, 1878). 
  • G.K. Chesterton (former Anglican, Unitarian background), Orthodoxy (1908); St. Francis of Assisi (1923); The Everlasting Man (1925); St. Thomas Aquinas (1933). 
  • Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome (1902); The Great Heresies (1938).
  • Joseph H. Cavanaugh, Evidence for Our Faith (1949 and later). 
  • Ronald Knox (former Anglican), A Spiritual Aeneid (1948); Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries (1950).
  • F.C. Copleston (former Anglican), Aquinas (1955). 
  • Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ (1958 and later). 
  • Warren H. Carroll (former deist), A History of Christendom (Six Volumes, 1985 to 2013). 
  • Thomas Howard (former Evangelical and Anglican), On Being Catholic (1997).   
  • St. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994); Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (Pauline Books 2007).
  • Steve Ray (former Baptist):  Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church (1997); Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church (Modern Apologetics Library, 1999).
  • Scott Hahn and Kimberly Hahn (former Evangelicals) Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism (1993); Scott Hahn, The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth (1999).  
  • H.W. Crocker III, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church: A 2,000-Year History (2001). 
  • Joseph Pearce (former agnostic), Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief (2000); C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (2003).
  • Thomas E. Woods Jr. (former Lutheran), How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (2005).    
  • Devin Rose (former Baptist), The Protestant's Dilemma: How the Reformation's Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism (2014). 

 

 

January 27th, 2015Morality in the Market Placeby Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative is a review of A Catechism for Business:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/01/morality-marketplace-catechism-business.html

January 26th, 2015Linguistics vs. Languageby Dena Hunt

There are those academics housed in English Departments who are called linguists and who maintain a staunchly scientific view of language that is often as rigid as the rabidly anti-intelligent design folks over in the Science Building. They’re not much interested in the Philosophy of Language (which is relegated to increasingly rare departments of philosophy), have little to no interest in literature as art (or in philology; e.g., Tolkien), except insofar as it provides opportunities to accumulate more data on evolutionary syntax or diction. Semantics is an interesting area, in that it provides so much opportunity for sociolinguists to extrapolate politically correct findings from exhaustive studies of the effects of colonialism on native cultures. They operate pretty much on the definitive formula language=communication, which places parameters around the field, protecting it from contamination by logos while opening up a world of dissertation possibilities along political/economic/sociological/anthropological lines, providing yet another chance of “proving” absolutely anything you want to prove via “data.”

Linguistics is a fascinating field that, owing to the politicization of academia, has fallen into the hands of the wrong people. Tolkien suffered much consternation over this subject, which, in his day at Oxford, appeared as an estrangement, often hostile, between “language” and “literature.” (His fame as a writer of mythopoeic fiction is so great that we forget he was, first and foremost, a philologist.)

I’m one of those people who believe we are on the cusp of an intellectual revolution which will involve (possibly among other effects) the passing of “science,” or at least of “the scientific method.” What has happened to linguistics is a serious case in point. It has, so ironically, collapsed into Babel, a mere mass of meaningless sounds. Linguistics is one of several fields that have lost either credibility or value or both. 

The other day I read a minor news piece about a linguist who declared that language is changing (surprise). Without naming parts of speech, she noted that we now use many more progressive verb forms because we have exchanged infinitives for gerunds. No mention of what this change might “mean,” of course. This constitutes news from linguistics.

What I noticed in decades of teaching English and evaluating texts, etc., is the loss of logic. Related to logos (in fact, its offspring), that should be no surprise. 

January 26th, 2015Tolkien, Catholicism and the Jackson Moviesby Joseph Pearce

I've just received an interesting and encouraging e-mail from an admirer of Tolkien who asks for my opinion of the Jackson movies. Here's an abridged version of her e-mail and my reply: 

Hello Prof. Pearce,

I just finished reading a 1998 edition of your book "Tolkien: Man and Myth", published in Great Britain by HarperCollins, a nice, used hardcover edition I ordered online. I can't tell you how pleased I am that I discovered it, and I honestly can't remember where I read about it. Of all the books on Tolkien and his work I have read over the years, yours is the only one that addresses the profound influence his Catholic faith had on his approach to his mythology, and of course his life. Perhaps there are other books out there that may do the same, but I have been reading Tolkien interpretations and analyses for almost 40 years and have not found one that has satisfied my own questions and intimations about his oeuvre the way your book has.

I discovered JRRT at age 14, and now at age 57 am still mining the depths of his great trilogy, and other writings, as well as his artwork and letters. I am also a devout Catholic, and recognized ,even before I knew it for certain, the themes that recur and run like threads through his mythologies, connecting everything to the Truth of Christianity. It has always pained me to read how others misunderstood him, as it must have pained him, but in the end his work has endured in spite of the critics, not unlike Christianity itself! Your book was a breath of fresh air to me, and I want to thank you for finally satisfying my longing for a validation of what I experienced in Prof. Tolkien's books as well. I especially liked Ch.7,"Orthodoxy in Middle Earth".  I often wondered about his personal thoughts on his faith as relative to his work.

Your book has made all other books about JRRT practically unnecessary, at least for me, with the exception of those books that deal with the literary sources he used for his mythologies, as I am an English Lit major myself and a lifelong student of the subject.  Perhaps it is my love for my Catholic faith and my love for the same literature and language which drew me to JRRT's writings in the first place - but at 14 how was I to know, except that it all resonated someplace deep inside, and still does.
 
This email is maybe too long an intrusion into your time, but I do have one question you perhaps may be able to answer: Do you think Prof. Tolkien would have approved and /or appreciated Peter Jackson's movies?  When the first one appeared in 2002, I refused to see it, as there had been so many bad attempts to bring LOTR to the screen in one form or another, but just before "The Two Towers" was released my husband brought home a video of The Fellowship, saying "I bought this for you because I know how much you like the books and thought you might enjoy this." I was, and remain, totally captivated by them all.  They are visually stunning, and despite the additions or omissions, I find them completely satisfying for what they are.  And the music is wonderful.  I think my poor husband is sorry he ever brought the first one home...but imagine a beloved book you have adored from childhood and enjoyed over and over as an adult brought to life so masterfully before your eyes.

Please feel free to disagree with me, I will not be offended. My opinions in these matters come not from scholarship but pure wonder and enjoyment. I truly want your scholarly opinion about how JRRT might have seen them. Have his children responded to the movies at all?
 
My reply:

Thanks so much for your encouraging e-mail. It's always reassuring to hear positive feedback! The reason that I wroteTolkien: Man & Myth was to address the woeful lack of scholarship on the importance of Tolkien's Catholicism on his work. On this topic, you might be interested to learn that I have a new book on the LotR coming out soon, entitled Frodo's Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of The Lord of the Rings (Saint Benedict Press), which goes somewhat deeper into the Catholic dimension.

Regarding your specific question about Tolkien's likely response to Peter Jackson's movies, I have written about this in my recent book, Catholic Literary Giants (Ignatius Press), in an essay entitled "Would Tolkien Have Given Peter Jackson's Movie the Thumbs-Up?" My conclusion is that he wouldn't have done, principally because of his own perfectionism and his suspicion of film as a medium. (Tolkien's son, Christopher, did not approve of the films, though Tolkien's grandchildren seem more positive.) In the same book I also wrote an essay giving my own judgement on Jackson's movies, entitled "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Successes and Failures of Tolkien on Film". My own view is essentially positive, with some reservations. I certainly enjoy the movies. I would add, however, that Jackson's recent Hobbit adaptation is horrible and bears very little in common with the Christian spirit or even the basic plot-line of Tolkien's book.

January 26th, 2015Chilling Thoughts for Tolkien Fansby Brendan D. King

On this site, I have often gone on record as both critic and a satirist of Peter Jackson's Tolkien travesties. From letting the Catholic out of the Baggins to the dumbing down of the dialogue, Peter Jackson's film treatments would not have received an enthusiastic reception had the creator of Middle Earth still been alive. They would have prompted, at the very least, an outraged letter from Tolkien, who would have demanded that Peter Jackson "show a little respect for the author." (See "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien", #210, Tolkien's Comments on Morton Grady Zimmerman's 1958 Film Treatment for "The Lord of the Rings"). 

Even so, the film industry has wreaked literary havoc well beyond Tolkien's Middle Earth Legendarium. From the Demi Moore adaptation of "The Scarlet Letter" to the Emma Thompson assault on "Brideshead Revisited", the hall of shame goes ever on and on. In fact, one shudders to think of how much greater damage an even less scrupulous director might have wreaked. For this reason, I have created the following examples as a reminder, both to myself and to my fellow Tolkien purists. It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse...

"THE DARK KNIGHT OF THE RINGS."
A Film by Christopher Nolan.

Based on a Screenplay by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan.

With his sword ablaze, the Lord of the Nazgul rides into the Gate of Gondor, a gate which no enemy has yet passed. All flee before his face. All but one. Gandalf rides Shadowfax toward the Dark Lord's minion, Glamdring bared.

GANDALF: You cannot enter here! Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!

All the blood drains from Gandalf's face as a eerie, high pitched cackle escapes from the Nazgul Lord. He throws back his hood to reveal... Heath Ledger in Clown Make-Up.

THE JOKER: You've got nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your spells. That reminds me. Do you wanna know how I got these scars?


"THE GANDALF."
A Film by Francis Ford Coppola.
Based on a Screenplay by Mario Puzo.

Exterior. Fortress of Rohan. Morning. "The Godfather" Theme plays in the background. 

Cut To. Interior; Grima Wormtongue's bedroom. He awakens to find the sheets soaked with something red and sticky. Terrified, he frantically pulls the sheets up until he finds... A horse's head. He tries to scream; but cannot. Then, at long last...

GRIMA: Ah! - Ah! - Ah! - Ah!

DISSOLVE TO: Gandalf's face illuminated by the red light of his pipe. With dismay, he notices Aragorn and Legolas carrying a large and garish floral display with the words "Thank You" spelled out in flowers.

GANDALF: What is this nonsense?

ARAGORN: From Eomer son of Eomund. Grima Wormtongue just resigned his position and fled to Orthanc. What did you do, by the way?

GANDALF: I made him an offer he couldn't refuse.


"RING WARS EPISODE V: THE SHADOW STRIKES BACK."
A Film by George Lucas.

Saruman: [Addressing Sauron's image in the Palantir] What is thy bidding, my Master?

Sauron: There is a great disturbance in the North.

Saruman: I have felt it.

Sauron: We have a new enemy. The Ranger who dispersed the Nazgul. I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Arathorn Arador's son.

Saruman: How is that possible?

Sauron: Search your feelings, Saruman of the Many Colors. You will know it to be true. He could destroy us.

Saruman: He's just a boy. Gandalf can no longer help him.

Sauron: Iluvatar favors him. The son of Arathorn must not become the King.

Saruman: If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.

Sauron[intrigued] Yes... He would be a great asset. Can it be done?

Saruman[Kneeling Down] He will join us or die, Master.


"DA GOODFELLA-SHIP O' DA RINGS."

A Film by Martin Scorsese.

Based on a Screenplay by Nick Pileggi.

The Fellowship are sitting around a table in 'The Prancing Pony' laughing hysterically at a story told by Gimli.

        Aragorn: That's funny! You're really funny. You're really funny!

        Gimli: What do you mean I'm funny?

        Aragorn: It's funny, you know. It's a good story. You're a funny guy.

        Gimli(Bristling): What, do you mean the way I talk? What?

Everyone suddenly stops laughing.

        Aragorn: It's just... You know, you're funny. It's funny. The way you tell the story and everything

        Gimli: Funny how? What's funny about it?

        Gandalf: Gimli, no. You got it all wrong.

        Gimli: Yo, Gandalf. He's a big boy, he knows what he said. (To Aragorn). Funny how?

        Aragorn: Just...

        Gimli: What?!

        Aragorn: Just... You know, you're funny.

        Gimli: Let me understand this, cause maybe its me, I'm a little hopped up maybe. Funny how? You mean funny like a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh? I'm here to amuse you. What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?

        Aragorn: Just... You know, how you tell the story.

        Gimli: No, no! I don't know! You said it! You said I'm funny! How the heck am I funny?! What the heck is funny about me?! Tell me, tell me, what's funny?!

Long Pause.

        Aragorn: Get the heck outta here, Gimli.

Everyone laughs.

        Gimli: You stutterin' wimp, you! I almost had him! I almost had him! Gandalf, wasn't he shakin'? I wonder about you sometimes, Strider. You may fold under questioning!

Freeze-Frame on a very nervous looking Aragorn.

        Aragorn: (Voiceover): As far back as I can remember I've always dreamed of bein' a Ranger.

Tony Bennet's "Rags to Riches" plays over the opening credits.

 

"MONTY PYTHON AND THE RING OF POWER."

A Film by Terry Gilliam.

Exterior. Fangorn Wood. Day. Foggy and Overcast. Spooky music plays. Merry and Pippin wander through heavy underbrush. Suddenly cut to EXTREME CLOSE-UP of Black-Brown Orc face.

MERRY: (Scared Stiff): Who are you?

ORC: We are the Orcs Who Say Ni!

PIPPIN: No! Not the Orcs Who Say Ni! 

ORC: The same!

PIPPIN: (To Merry): Those who hear them seldom live to tell the tale.

ORC: The Orcs Who Say Ni demand... a Sacrifice.

MERRY: Oh, Orcs of Ni, we are but simple travelers. We seek...

ORC: Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni!

Merry and Pippin scream and writhe in agony. 

ORC: We shall say Ni again to you if you do not appease us. 

PIPPIN: Alright. What do you want?

ORC: We want... A shrubbery! 

MERRY and PIPPIN: A what?!

ORC: (Pointing to a Nearby Shrubbery Plot): And when you have brought it back, place it right here next to this shrubbery, only a little higher so that we get this two-level effect with a little path in the middle. And then you must slay the mightiest Ent in the forest with.. A HERRING! 

MERRY: We shall do no such thing. Let us pass!

ORC: (Visibly Heartbroken): Oh please!

PIPPIN: We shall do no such thing. Kill an Ent with a herring? It can't be done!

Orcs scream and writhe in agony.

ORC: Don't say that word.

PIPPIN: What word?

ORC: The one word the Orcs of Ni cannot hear.

MERRY and PIPPIN: (Catching on): It!  It!  It!  It!

Orcs scream, writhe, and roll in the dust of the forest floor. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" plays as Merry and Pippin calmly walk away.

January 26th, 2015Chilling Thoughts for Tolkien Fansby Brendan D. King

On this site, I have often gone on record as both critic and a satirist of Peter Jackson's Tolkien travesties. From letting the Catholic out of the Baggins to the dumbing down of the dialogue, Peter Jackson's film treatments would not have received an enthusiastic reception had the creator of Middle Earth still been alive. They would have prompted, at the very least, an outraged letter from Tolkien, who would have demanded that Peter Jackson "show a little respect for the author." (See "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien", #210, Tolkien's Comments on Morton Grady Zimmerman's 1958 Film Treatment for "The Lord of the Rings"). 

Even so, the film industry has wreaked literary havoc well beyond Tolkien's Middle Earth Legendarium. From the Demi Moore adaptation of "The Scarlet Letter" to the Emma Thompson assault on "Brideshead Revisited", the hall of shame goes ever on and on. In fact, one shudders to think of how much greater damage an even less scrupulous director might have wreaked. For this reason, I have created the following examples as a reminder, both to myself and to my fellow Tolkien purists. It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse...

"THE DARK KNIGHT OF THE RINGS."
A Film by Christopher Nolan.

Based on a Screenplay by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan.

With his sword ablaze, the Lord of the Nazgul rides into the Gate of Gondor, a gate which no enemy has yet passed. All flee before his face. All but one. Gandalf rides Shadowfax toward the Dark Lord's minion, Glamdring bared.

GANDALF: You cannot enter here! Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!

All the blood drains from Gandalf's face as a eerie, high pitched cackle escapes from the Nazgul Lord. He throws back his hood to reveal... Heath Ledger in Clown Make-Up.

THE JOKER: You've got nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your spells. That reminds me. Do you wanna know how I got these scars?


"THE GANDALF."
A Film by Francis Ford Coppola.
Based on a Screenplay by Mario Puzo.

Exterior. Fortress of Rohan. Morning. "The Godfather" Theme plays in the background. 

Cut To. Interior; Grima Wormtongue's bedroom. He awakens to find the sheets soaked with something red and sticky. Terrified, he frantically pulls the sheets up until he finds... A horse's head. He tries to scream; but cannot. Then, at long last...

GRIMA: Ah! - Ah! - Ah! - Ah!

DISSOLVE TO: Gandalf's face illuminated by the red light of his pipe. With dismay, he notices Aragorn and Legolas carrying a large and garish floral display with the words "Thank You" spelled out in flowers.

GANDALF: What is this nonsense?

ARAGORN: From Eomer son of Eomund. Grima Wormtongue just resigned his position and fled to Orthanc. What did you do, by the way?

GANDALF: I made him an offer he couldn't refuse.


"RING WARS EPISODE V: THE SHADOW STRIKES BACK."
A Film by George Lucas.

Saruman: [Addressing Sauron's image in the Palantir] What is thy bidding, my Master?

Sauron: There is a great disturbance in the North.

Saruman: I have felt it.

Sauron: We have a new enemy. The Ranger who dispersed the Nazgul. I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Arathorn Arador's son.

Saruman: How is that possible?

Sauron: Search your feelings, Saruman of the Many Colors. You will know it to be true. He could destroy us.

Saruman: He's just a boy. Gandalf can no longer help him.

Sauron: Iluvatar favors him. The son of Arathorn must not become the King.

Saruman: If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.

Sauron[intrigued] Yes... He would be a great asset. Can it be done?

Saruman[Kneeling Down] He will join us or die, Master.

 

"DA GOODFELLA-SHIP O' DA RINGS."

A Film by Martin Scorsese.

Based on a Screenplay by Nick Pileggi.

The Fellowship are sitting around a table in 'The Prancing Pony' laughing hysterically at a story told by Gimli.

        Aragorn: That's funny! You're really funny. You're really funny!

        Gimli: What do you mean I'm funny?

        Aragorn: It's funny, you know. It's a good story. You're a funny guy.

        Gimli(Bristling): What, do you mean the way I talk? What?

Everyone suddenly stops laughing.

        Aragorn: It's just... You know, you're funny. It's funny. The way you tell the story and everything

        Gimli: Funny how? What's funny about it?

        Gandalf: Gimli, no. You got it all wrong.

        Gimli: Yo, Gandalf. He's a big boy, he knows what he said. (To Aragorn). Funny how?

        Aragorn: Just...

        Gimli: What?!

        Aragorn: Just... You know, you're funny.

        Gimli: Let me understand this, cause maybe its me, I'm a little hopped up maybe. Funny how? You mean funny like a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh? I'm here to amuse you. What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?

        Aragorn: Just... You know, how you tell the story.

        Gimli: No, no! I don't know! You said it! You said I'm funny! How the heck am I funny?! What the heck is funny about me?! Tell me, tell me, what's funny?!

Long Pause.

        Aragorn: Get the heck outta here, Gimli.

Everyone laughs.

        Gimli: You stutterin' wimp, you! I almost had him! I almost had him! Gandalf, wasn't he shakin'? I wonder about you sometimes, Strider. You may fold under questioning!

Freeze-Frame on a very nervous looking Aragorn.

        Aragorn: (Voiceover): As far back as I can remember I've always dreamed of bein' a Ranger.

Tony Bennet's "Rags to Riches" plays over the opening credits.

 

"MONTY PYTHON AND THE RING OF POWER."

A Film by Terry Gilliam.

Exterior. Fangorn Wood. Day. Foggy and Overcast. Spooky music plays. Merry and Pippin wander through heavy underbrush. Suddenly cut to EXTREME CLOSE-UP of Black-Brown Orc face.

MERRY: (Scared Stiff): Who are you?

ORC: We are the Orcs Who Say Ni!

PIPPIN: No! Not the Orcs Who Say Ni! 

ORC: The same!

PIPPIN: (To Merry): Those who hear them seldom live to tell the tale.

ORC: The Orcs Who Say Ni demand... a Sacrifice.

MERRY: Oh, Orcs of Ni, we are but simple travelers. We seek...

ORC: Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni!

Merry and Pippin scream and writhe in agony. 

ORC: We shall say Ni again to you if you do not appease us. 

PIPPIN: Alright. What do you want?

ORC: We want... A shrubbery! 

MERRY and PIPPIN: A what?!

ORC: (Pointing to a Nearby Shrubbery Plot): And when you have brought it back, place it right here next to this shrubbery, only a little higher so that we get this two-level effect with a little path in the middle. And then you must slay the mightiest Ent in the forest with.. A HERRING! 

MERRY: We shall do no such thing. Let us pass!

ORC: (Visibly Heartbroken): Oh please!

PIPPIN: We shall do no such thing. Kill an Ent with a herring? It can't be done!

Orcs scream and writhe in agony.

ORC: Don't say that word.

PIPPIN: What word?

ORC: The one word the Orcs of Ni cannot hear.

MERRY and PIPPIN: (Catching on): It!  It!  It!  It!

Orcs scream, writhe, and roll in the dust of the forest floor. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" plays as Merry and Pippin calmly walk away.

January 26th, 2015How to Find Communion in a Church that Doesn’t Careby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

G. K. Chesterton


In the comment section of my most recent post on the clergy sex scandal, reader Michael R. asks ...

Got any advice for a Catholic who doesn't know where to stand with the clergy?
Should one's Church life merely consist of the sacramental life, and taking clergy's statements with a pinch of salt?


This question merits a post of its own as a response, so I'll give it a go.

***

Michael, the situation you describe is part of a larger problem.  The question is not only where to stand with the clergy, but where to stand with our fellow lay Catholics.



If we know anything about the Faith, we know that it should make a difference in our lives.  And yet, generally speaking, the Faith either makes no difference in people's lives, or, in many cases, it makes people worse - priggish, judgmental and self-satisfied.  This is, strictly speaking, not our problem.  We are to tend our own gardens and see to our own salvation, witnessing to others in the process, while realizing that our relationship with God is not the same as our neighbor's.

But, of course, given what's going on around us, this is hard.  Men grow closer to Christ through communion - communion with Him and with His Body, which is the Church - and communion is an aspect of community.  But the Church these days is not particularly conducive to communion or community.  I know of almost no parish in my archdiocese that functions as a parish should - "building up the Body of Christ", working as a community of people who are united in their love for God, and who are working to help one another become "mature in Christ" (Eph. 4:13).  In most suburban parishes, you can't really even say anything Catholic is going on (other than sin, which is quite catholic).  Many parishes are gathering places for Inconsequentialists, not Catholics.

Of course, I'm an idealist and I am much more prone to see the gap between where we should be and where we are than I am to see the simple good that's around me.  But, in most cases, the good that people do around us they do naturally and not by grace - which is to say that people can be quite loving and kind without any conscious participation in God's redemption.  They are good by nature or by habit or even by a great and deliberate sacrifice - but the sacrifice is not one that they understand to be united with the cross.  And, while God's grace is always present to all people in invisible ways, it's not clear where Jesus Christ and His Church visibly fits in to all of this these days.

Meanwhile, getting back to the original focus of your question, when the bishops have, by and large, proven themselves to be scoundrels, cowards and man-pleasers, when their clergy are sometimes wolves in sheep's clothing, and when (at the parish level) the gay music minister is a scheming monster, the Director of Religious Education is a power-hungry Amazon, and when the Parish Nurse keeps a handy supply of condoms in her desk drawer to give out, along with lollipops, to the kiddos, you've really got to ask yourself (as you do), "Where do I stand with these people?"

Yes, the answer is to focus on the sacraments (which you mention) and on prayer life and spiritual reading and doing good works (which you don't), but all of these things can tend to be isolating, tempting those of us who are called to live in the secular realm and who cannot afford to be contemplative hermits to see growth in the Faith as more of an individual than a communal thing - when, in fact, it is both, and when we must admit that we suffer when we have no communities around us that we can trust, that we can function in, that we can develop in.

But, in fact, there are some.  We have oases in the midst of this dessert, though mirages sometimes get in the way and obscure our vision.

In my case, I've experienced this tangibly and in a very profound way with the American Chesterton Society.  Fans of G. K. Chesterton are a diverse and fascinating group, from all walks of life, from all over the world, and from a variety of backgrounds.  We are all either Catholics in full communion with the Body of Christ, or Catholics who are stumbling and bumbling our way toward full communion with the Body of Christ, or Catholics who don't even know we're Catholic yet or what full communion with the Body of Christ looks like or feels like.  We are united in our love for this tremendous writer and saint because he always pointed the way toward the Way - the way toward Christ, the Everlasting Man.  We are united in our love of wit and humor and art and philosophy and beauty and nature and the great and dumbfounding gift that is Being itself.  We are sinners and saints working to help one another by means of our love for one another, and by means of our love for Him, Christ, the Man in whom we are bound.

The Chestertonians are not only what the Church should be; we are what the Church is.  And I imagine there are other communities out there that are similar - communities that may only gather in full once a year as we do, but that somehow (even if separated by great distances) worship together, suffer together, live and die together.

And yet, the second part of your question is troubling.  If we can't trust the clergy should we take their statements "with a pinch of salt"?

If you mean by that, should we be wary of our bishops, priests and deacons?  Yes, by all means!  Mephistopheles, the demon in Dr. Faustus, spends his time going around dressed as a clergyman, after all, and there is nothing magical about a collar or a cassock.

But if you mean by that, "Since our clergy are sinners, may we ignore their teaching on matters of Faith and Morals?" the answer is a resounding no.  God's great and mysterious wisdom was to give the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, an emotional, volatile, clumsy and fleshy sinner, who has ever since been speaking with the authority of God on matters of Faith and Morals, as have his clergy who are in communion with him and with Christ, who ordained him.  They teach infallibly on certain things and have the power to bind and loose both on earth and in heaven.

My answer, then, is to stay humble and obey the actual authority these sometimes-scoundrels exercise (when they can be bothered to exercise it, which they are usually reluctant to do, preoccupied as they are with themselves and with their worldly matters).  And find a community, a place of communion, a place that seeks to grow toward maturity in Christ.  It might be a parish, a book club, a social group, a Facebook group.  But if it's really a living cell of the Church, it will really be a channel of God's grace, and you will really find saints in the making right before your eyes - as I have.

Meanwhile, tend to your garden, and sanctify your job and your family, which is your domestic Church and which is the immediate and primary task you've been given.

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

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

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.

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.



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

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

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

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. 

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

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

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

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. 

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.

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).

 

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

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.

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 ...




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

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.  

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

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.


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!

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.

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.


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.

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

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

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!"

What are your thoughts on the subject?