April 23rd, 2014The Eternal Shakespeareby Joseph Pearce

Here's another article celebrating the Bard's birthday that I've published today, this one in The Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/04/eternal-shakespeare.html

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April 23rd, 2014The Most Insidious Problem in the Church - and Sir Mix-a-Lot Too!by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

In Part One of this post, I quoted Jeff Ostrowski of Corpus Christi Watershed as he showed the similarity between a sappy setting of the Gloria by renegade priest Dan Schutte and the theme to "My Little Pony".  The tunes are disturbingly similar.


Click on the links and compare them yourselves.

Here they are again:



Disturbingly similar.  It makes you wonder if Dan Schutte is a "brony".

A name typically given to the male viewers / fans (whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, etc.) of the My Little Pony show or franchise. They typically do not give in to the hype that males aren't allowed to enjoy things that may be intended for females.


Whether this describes Schutte or not, why is his music such a big deal?

Because in 14 years as a Catholic, I have found that the single most serious issue in the Church is the bad music at Mass.  This is more serious than the sex scandal, more serious than the abdication of our bishops, more serious than heterodox homilies.

Why?  Because all of these other serious problems can be addressed rationally.  Bad bishops, bad homilies and especially the sex abuse scandal are obvious - the latter, in fact, is notorious.  But bad music is insidious.

in·sid·i·ous inˈsidēəs 
adjective
adjective insidious
  1. proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.


In order to explain this, let me take you back twenty years.

***

It was sometime in the 1990's.  I was an adult student at Webster University in St. Louis, and I decided to take a class in the Religion Department.  Webster, founded by the Sisters of Loretto, had even then long since abandoned any pretense of being Catholic (like the Sisters of Loretto themselves), and apparently their "Religion" courses were all run by Stanford Nutting, for we'd typically move our chairs in a circle and "discuss" things that we knew absolutely nothing about.

Our instructor one day instigated a discussion on the "Oceanic Feeling", Freud's term for the sense of being One with the universe.  "Have any of you had The Oceanic Feeling?" he asked.

Around the circle of chairs every single hand popped up - except mine.  I had never felt "at One with the universe" and I still haven't.  It's much more obvious that the universe is out to get me, in fact.  I wouldn't last long on the surface of Pluto, for example, and it's pretty evident that the consistent unity of inter-acting things (which is what the universe is) could, at best, give a fig about yours truly.

"What on earth gives you the Oceanic Feeling?" I asked the young man sitting across from me - one of the many whose hand had shot up.

"Music!" he exclaimed, with a breathless and airy enthusiasm.  "Music gives me the Oceanic Feeling!"

I have forgotten this kid's name, but he was the most soft-spoken student in the class.  He barely vocalized above a whisper, and I often wanted to shake him and say, "Speak up!  The universe can't hear you!"  His great affectation was gentleness, but he looked like a mafioso.  Tall with dark hair, dark eyebrows and a permanent five o'clock shadow, his abundant testosterone and Mediterranean background put the lie to his almost androgynous mildness of manner - though he did live with his mother and her sisters, so the poor kid had an uphill battle.

"What kind of music puts you at One with the universe?" I asked.

"Any kind of music," he said glibly and smiled.

"Oh, any kind of music puts you at One with the universe, does it?" I pressed.

"Yes, any kind of music!"

 "What about rap music?  Does rap music put you at One with the universe?"

"It certainly could!" he smiled.

"Let me get this straight," I replied.  "'Baby Got Back' by Sir Mix-a-Lot, that song about girls with gigantic butts - even that song could put you at One with the universe?  Even that song could give you the old Oceanic Feeling?"

He wasn't the least bit phased.  "I'm certain it could!" he answered, slipping into a kind of benign trance even as he sat there.

***

But of course he was wrong.  Supposing the Oceanic Feeling to be a real thing, Sir Mix-a-Lot and "Baby Got Back" would not be any way to get there.

Music, like all art, like all things we experience aesthetically, has an objective component, even though our appreciation of this objective component varies subjectively from person to person - but not entirely.  This is why we have critics.  This is why we discuss music and art and literature, because we know innately that there is some objective quality we are trying to evaluate and appreciate in any work of art, limited though we are in our subjective ability to do so. There are objective standards of good and bad, and various works of art hit those standards or fall shy of them.  More than that, what makes a good rap song does not make a good church hymn.  Art exists for a teleos, or an end, a reason - and good art achieves the end for which it is made; bad art does not.

For instance, there's nothing wrong with the "My Little Pony Theme".  It's entirely appropriate for the show and for its demographic - female children.

It is entirely inappropriate for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

As I wrote on Facebook ...

Bad liturgical music is insidious. It's one thing to hear a heterodox homily or to spot liturgical abuse - but the music, even the very melodies - the music conveys heterodoxy at a subliminal and pre-rational level, making it almost impossible to fight against. 


And this is the problem.  When Catholics are surrounded by melodies that deliberately convey the unconscious message that Jesus Christ crucified is no different from a mindless cartoon for little girls, we've got a serious problem.

Were the music at Mass reformed in one fell swoop, the Church would begin a rebirth in America the likes of which we have never seen before.  But as long as the "My Little Pony Theme" is used to glorify God, reform in the Church will never take hold.


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April 23rd, 2014My New Position at Aquinas Collegeby Joseph Pearce

I'm delighted to announce my new position at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee. 

From July 1st I will take up the position of Director of the Aquinas Center for Faith and Culture and will also become Aquinas College's writer-in-residence, teaching a course on Modern Christian Literature in the Fall semester.

Here's the Aquinas College press release announcing my appointment:

http://www.aquinascollege.edu/joseph-pearce-director-faith-culture-writer-residence/

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April 23rd, 2014Shakespeare’s 450th Birthdayby Joseph Pearce

To commemorate the Bard's 450th birthday I've written this article, just posted by the National Catholic Register:

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/shakespeare-at-450-slaying-the-anti-catholic-dragons/

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April 22nd, 2014“The Bards of Wales” by Janos Aranyby Brendan D. King

Hungarian poet Janos Arany (1817-1882) has been referred to as the Shakespeare of Ballads. His most famous poem,A Walesi Bárdok'  ("THe Bards of Wales," was written in response to the visit of the Emperor Franz Joseph to Hungary in 1857. Arany, like many other European intellectuals, was enraged by the defeat of the 1848 Revolution. Therefore, instead of writing a poem to welcome the Emperor, Arany retold the legend that King Edward I of England, the "Longshanks" of Mel Gibson's" Braveheart," had 500 Welsh bards burned alive for refusing to sing his praises at a banquet.
 
The famous translation, which was published by Canadian linguist Watson Kirkconnell in 1933, appears below accompanied by the original Hungarian text. A dramatic reading of the poem by Imre Sinkovits appears first:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Btn0MAqfW0

"English Text.
        Edward the king, the English king, 
  Bestride his tawny steed, 
       "For I will see if Wales," said he, 
  "Accepts my rule indeed. 

       "Are stream and mountain fair to see? 
  Are meadow grasses good? 
       Do corn-lands bear a crop more rare 
  Since wash'd with rebel's blood? 

       "And are the wretched people there, 
  Whose insolence I broke 
       As happy as the oxen are 
  Beneath the driver's yoke? 

       "In truth this Wales, Sire, is a gem, 
  The fairest in your crown: 
       The stream and field rich harvest yield, 
  And fair and dale and down. 

       "And all the wretched people there 
  Are calm as man could crave; 
       Their hovels stand throughout the land 
  As silent as the grave." 

       Edward the king, the English King 
  Bestrides his tawny steed; 
       A silence deep his subjects keep 
  And Wales is mute indeed. 

       The castle named Montgomery 
  Ends that day's journeying; 
       The castle's lord, Montgomery, 
  Must entertain the king. 

       Then game and fish and ev'ry dish 
  That lures the taste and sight 
       A hundred hurrying servants bear 
  To please the appetite. 

       With all of worth the isle brings forth 
  In dainty drink and food, 
       And all the wines of foreign vines 
  Beyond the distant flood. 

       "You lords, you lords, will none consent 
  His glass with mine to ring? 
       What? Each one fails, you dogs of Wales, 
  To toast the English king? 

       "Though game and fish and ev'ry dish 
  That lures the taste and sight 
       Your hand supplies, your mood defies 
  My person with a slight. 

       "You rascal lords, you dogs of Wales, 
  Will none for Edward cheer? 
       To serve my needs and chant my deeds 
  Then let a bard appear!" 

       The nobles gaze in fierce amaze, 
  Their cheeks grow deadly pale; 
       Not fear but rage their looks engage, 
  They blanch but do not quail. 

       All voices cease in soundless peace, 
  All breathe in silent pain; 
       Then at the door a harper hoar 
  Comes in with grave disdain: 

       "Lo, here I stand, at your command, 
  To chant your deeds, O king!" 
       And weapons clash and hauberks crash 
  Responsive to his string. 

       "Harsh weapons clash and hauberks crash, 
  And sunset sees us bleed, 
       The crow and wolf our dead engulf - 
  This, Edward, is your deed! 

       "A thousand lie beneath the sky, 
  They rot beneath the sun, 
       And we who live shall not forgive 
  This deed your hand hath done!" 

       "Now let him perish! I must have" 
  (The monarch's voice is hard) 
       "Your softest songs, and not your wrongs!" 
  In steps a boyish bard: 

       "The breeze is soft at eve, that oft 
  From Milford Havens moans; 
       It whispers maidens' stifled cries, 
  It breathes of widows' groans. 

       "You maidens, bear no captive babes! 
  You mothers, rear them not!" 
       The fierce king nods. The lad is seiz'd 
  And hurried from the spot. 

       Unbidden then, among the men, 
  There comes a dauntless third 
       With speech of fire he tunes his lyre, 
  And bitter is his word: 

       "Our bravest died to slake your pride - 
  Proud Edward, hear my lays! 
       No Welsh bards live who e'er will give 
  Your name a song a praise. 

       "Our harps with dead men's memories weep. 
  Welsh bards to you will sing 
       One changeless verse - our blackest curse 
  To blast your soul, O king!" 

       "No more! Enough!" - cries out the king. 
  In rage his orders break: 
       "Seek through these vales all bards of Wales 
  And burn them at the stake!" 

       His men ride forth to south and north, 
  They ride to west and east. 
       Thus ends in grim Montgomery 
  The celebrated feast. 

       Edward the king, the English king 
  Spurs on his tawny steed; 
       Across the skies red flames arise 
  As if Wales burned indeed. 

       In martyrship, with song on lip, 
  Five hundred Welsh bards died; 
       Not one was mov'd to say he lov'd 
  The tyrant in his pride. 

      "'Ods blood! What songs this night resound 
  Upon our London streets? 
       The mayor shall feel my irate heel 
  If aught that sound repeats! 

       Each voice is hush'd; through silent lanes 
  To silent homes they creep. 
       "Now dies the hound that makes a sound; 
  The sick king cannot sleep." 

       "Ha! Bring me fife and drum and horn, 
  And let the trumpet blare! 
       In ceaseless hum their curses come - 
  I see their dead eyes glare..." 

       But high above all drum and fife 
  and trumpets' shrill debate, 
       Five hundred martyr'd voices chant 
  Their hymn of deathless hate.  

(Translated by Watson Kirkconnel)

Arany János (1857. június.)
Edward király, angol király
Léptet fakó lován:
Hadd látom, úgymond, mennyit ér
A velszi tartomány.

Van-e ott folyó és földje jó?
Legelõin fû kövér?
Használt-e a megöntözés:
A pártos honfivér?

S a nép, az istenadta nép,
Ha oly boldog-e rajt’
Mint akarom, s mint a barom,
Melyet igába hajt?

Felség! valóban koronád
Legszebb gyémántja Velsz:
Földet, folyót, legelni jót,
Hegy-völgyet benne lelsz.

S a nép, az istenadta nép
Oly boldog rajta, Sire!
Kunyhói mind hallgatva, mint
Megannyi puszta sir.

Edward király, angol király
Léptet fakó lován:
Körötte csend amerre ment,
És néma tartomány.

Montgomery a vár neve,
Hol aznap este szállt;
Montgomery, a vár ura,
Vendégli a királyt.

Vadat és halat, s mi jó falat
Szem-szájnak ingere,
Sürgõ csoport, száz szolga hord,
Hogy nézni is tereh;

S mind, amiket e szép sziget
Ételt-italt terem;
S mind, ami bor pezsegve forr
Túl messzi tengeren.

Ti urak, ti urak! hát senkisem
Koccint értem pohárt?
Ti urak, ti urak!... ti velsz ebek!
Ne éljen Eduárd?

Vadat és halat, s mi az ég alatt
Szem-szájnak kellemes,
Azt látok én: de ördög itt
Belül minden nemes.

Ti urak, ti urak, hitvány ebek!
Ne éljen Eduárd?
Hol van, ki zengje tetteim -
Elõ egy velszi bárd!

Egymásra néz a sok vitéz,
A vendég velsz urak;
Orcáikon, mint félelem,
Sápadt el a harag.

Szó bennszakad, hang fennakad,
Lehellet megszegik. -
Ajtó megõl fehér galamb,
Õsz bárd emelkedik.

Itt van, király, ki tetteidet
Elzengi, mond az agg;
S fegyver csörög, haló hörög
Amint húrjába csap.

„Fegyver csörög, haló hörög,
A nap vértóba száll,
Vérszagra gyûl az éji vad:
Te tetted ezt, király!

Levágva népünk ezrei,
Halomba, mint kereszt,
Hogy sírva tallóz aki él:
Király, te tetted ezt!”

Máglyára! el! igen kemény -
Parancsol Eduárd -
Ha! lágyabb ének kell nekünk;
S belép egy ifju bárd.

„Ah! lágyan kél az esti szél
Milford-öböl felé;
Szüzek siralma, özvegyek
Panasza nyög belé.

Ne szülj rabot, te szûz! anya
Ne szoptass csecsemõt!...”
S int a király. S elérte még
A máglyára menõt.

De vakmerõn s hivatlanúl
Elõáll harmadik;
Kobzán a dal magára vall,
Ez íge hallatik:

„Elhullt csatában a derék -
No halld meg, Eduárd:
Neved ki diccsel ejtené,
Nem él oly velszi bárd.

„Emléke sír a lanton még -
No halld meg, Eduárd:
Átok fejedre minden dal,
Melyet zeng velszi bárd.”

Meglátom én! - S parancsot ád
Király rettenetest:
Máglyára, ki ellenszegûl,
Minden velsz énekest!

Szolgái szét száguldanak,
Ország-szerin, tova.
Montgomeryben így esett
A híres lakoma. -

S Edvárd király, angol király
Vágtat fakó lován;
Körötte ég földszint az ég:
A velszi tartomány.

Ötszáz, bizony, dalolva ment
Lángsírba velszi bárd:
De egy se birta mondani
Hogy: éljen Eduárd. -

Ha, ha! mi zúg?... mi éji dal
London utcáin ez?
Felköttetem a lord-majort,
Ha bosszant bármi nesz!

Áll néma csend; légy szárnya bent,
Se künn, nem hallatik:
„Fejére szól, ki szót emel!
Király nem alhatik.”

Ha, ha! elõ síp, dob, zene!
Harsogjon harsona:
Fülembe zúgja átkait
A velszi lakoma...

De túl zenén, túl síp-dobon,
Riadó kürtön át:
Ötszáz énekli hangosan
A vértanúk dalát.

Arany János (1857. június.)

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April 22nd, 2014“The Dark Way” by Joseph Mary Plunkettby Brendan D. King

Yesterday marked the 98th anniversary of the abortive Easter Rising in Dublin. Until the outbreak of The Troubles in 1969, every EasterMonday was commemorated with parades by the Irish State. It is, after all, Ireland's Independence Day.

In honor of the occasion, I have decided to post a poem by Joseph Mary Plunkett, one of the Rising's leaders. The poem was addressed to his fiancee, Grace Gifford. Joseph and Grace were married in the Catholic chapel of Dublin's Kilmainham Jail. Just a few hours later, Joseph Plunkett was taken into the courtyard and executed by firing squad. His poem "The Dark Way" may be described as his last message to the woman he loved.

http://poetry.elcore.net/CatholicPoets/Plunkett/Plunkett23.html

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April 22nd, 2014Good News from Spainby Joseph Pearce

I am always extremely gratified and somewhat humbled to learn that my books have played a part (always under grace) in people's conversion to the Catholic Faith. Since it is always edifying "good news" to learn of conversions or, in this case, a return to the Faith, I thought I'd share an e-mail that I received this morning. I've preserved the correspondent's right to privacy by omitting his name:
 
My name is ________________, I´m from Spain, we contacted in the past about the translation into the Spanish language of an article from the Saint Austin Review.
I just wanted to say thanks to you because just some days ago, on Holy Thursday, I had Communion for the first time after more than 25 years. I owe my returning to the Church and the practice of Catholicism to many friends, but also to my readings, in which your books, particularly Literary Converts, played a big part. That your book not only was of great inspiration for me, also forwarded me to read many authors that were important in my conversion. Your last book, Race with the Devil was also so interesting and encourages me in the last steps.  Although true conversion is a work of Grace, and it´s something never complete that you have to work on every day, I find your books so helpful in the rational first steps of the path to the Truth.

Yours sincerely ....

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April 22nd, 2014The Culture of Death and the Logic of Consumerismby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Matthew Tan has written an essay that is filled with vocabulary and allusions that only an economist from academia could appreciate, but he ends up saying some compelling things that I will try to translate into non-academic English.

He points out that abortion is more than an individual decision; the abortion industry is a social construct that communicates a conception of man that has been a long time coming.  This vision of man is the flip side of Fromm's homo consumens.  Not only is modern man thought to find value by purchasing commodities (consuming man) - modern man himself is a commodity.  We are valued because of our visibility, which is what gives us marketability.  Hence, invisible humans, such as unborn babies, have no value whatsoever.  And since the value of life is found in the marketplace, we are compelled to insure against anything that might damage the accidentals - or even the cosmetics - that now determine what man is and make man marketable.  Tan explains ...

... the foetus becomes classified as an element of risk because it presents a disruption to the integrity of the autonomy of the more visible mother. Indeed, because of the imperative to consume and be consumed within late Capitalism, the invisible foetus can become vulnerable to being categorised by the mother as a risk insofar as it threatens to consume the mother, whether in terms of her financial resources, future plans or body image. In the face of the foetus' being considered such a risk, the insurational imaginary posits abortion as a form of insurance against risks to the mother's integrity. 


In other words, if our culture tells you that your value as a person subsists in your "financial resources, future plans or body image," then whatever threatens any of this must be insured against - and the vacuum hose at Planned Parenthood is a great tool that protects you from this thing that attacks your very value as a person - this thing that threatens to "consume" you.  It's not a question of killing an unborn baby, it's a question of maintaining your very worth as a human being - or so the economic and cultural structure of society tells us.

Because this way of thinking permeates society, the Church is faced with a challenge - and that challenge is not just to preach the pro-life message, but to offer an alternate cultural reality.

The Great Commission to ‘make disciples of all peoples’ would encompass more than achieving agreement in the minds of those disciples to a corpus of belief. It would involve training the bodies of these disciples into becoming ecclesial ‘fields’ to nourish the necessary habitus that in turn makes believable the claims of the Gospel of life. 


... which is to say you can't just preach at people, you've got to create a new community that lives out what you believe, "housing within its practices a counter-logic to the logic of consumerism" as Matthew Tan states it.

And how can the Church do this? you might ask.  Tan answers, through the sacraments, particularly by means of the Eucharist - for the Eucharist stands as a stark witness against the consumer society, in the following ways ...

  • The Capitalist society is predicated upon "resource scarcity".  The Eucharist is an expression of the plenitude of God

  • Consumer society is founded upon contract, upon buying and selling.  The Eucharist is pure gift.

  • Commoditized man must be visible: slick, sexy, airbrushed, bold, powerful.  The Eucharist is itself a hidden treasure, humble, quiet, an expression of hidden strength appearing as weakness. (see 2 Cor. 12:10 and elsewhere)

  • In modern culture, the value of man is something external to his being.  In the Eucharist "the gift is not alienated from the giver": gift and giver are one.  "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35)


This is what the Church is called to do.  Rather than being a mere prop to a consumerist culture, a Culture of Death whose very structures and modes of thought and whose concept of being and value support abortion and other evils, the Church must become what she already is (though herself in a hidden and weak way), a "public in its own right" (as Tan calls it), whose existence challenges the social structure at large that surrounds it.




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April 22nd, 2014Remembering a Murdered Jesuitby Joseph Pearce

I knew nothing about Fr. Frans van der Lugt before I read his obituary and I know nothing more about him than the information contained in it. It seems, however, a duty to pay tribute to a Catholic priest who risked his life for his flock in Syria, who risked it and ultimately lost it. Read on:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/religion-obituaries/10775431/Father-Frans-van-der-Lugt-obituary.html

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April 22nd, 2014Dante: The Self-Help Guruby Joseph Pearce

Here's an excellent article by Rod Dreher about the ways in which Dante's masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, can help us examine our own consciences and embrace the purgatory of penitence on our paths to recovery from sinfulness.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303663604579503700159096702?mod=WSJ_hp_RightTopStories&mg=reno64-wsj

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April 22nd, 2014The Wounds of the Risen Christby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

It was the best Easter homiliy I had ever heard.

"Good Friday was the worst thing that ever happened in all history," the homilist said.  "And Easter Sunday was the best thing."

But, he said, we could not have the second without the first.

The Resurrection incorporated all of the evil that went before it, turned it around and redeemed it.  "The suffering of Good Friday led to the joy of the Resurrection.  And the Resurrection bears witness to that evil and to that suffering - as does the Mass which continues to re-present the sacrifice of Calvary."

"Some of you," he continued, "might find it hard to rejoice just because the calendar tells us it's the season to rejoice.  Some of you might still be carrying your Good Friday with you, inside of you.  But Good Friday will never leave us, and the fullness of joy will never come before we die.  And this is part of the message of Easter."


What he means, I thought, is that Jesus Christ continues to bear His wounds, even after rising.  



Dawn Eden makes much of this in her book My Peace I Give You, which is addressed to those who have suffered abuse, and who might feel ashamed or confused at carrying the scars of sin, even while living new lives in Christ.  How can we, some of us may wonder, if we're supposed to be part of God's New Creation, still be walking around so hurt and wounded?

For the scars of sin are inflicted both when we suffer sin and when we commit sin.  We are wounded when we are sinned against, and we are wounded even more deeply when we sin against others.  And no one passes through this life without collecting both kinds of wounds - the scars caused by being victimized and those caused by being victimizers.

But Christ bears His wounds - the wounds caused by our sins - even in His glorious and eternal Body.  He not only keeps His wounds, He displays them after His resurrection, displays them as a sign.  

But what does this sign signify?

It signifies this: that even the persistence of evil and suffering in our own day is being used for the glory of God and for our eternal joy.  For Easter includes Good Friday.  It includes Holy Saturday and Maundy Thursday.  It includes Adam and the Apple and the nasty thing you said to your wife on Tuesday that you've regretted ever since.  This is why Catholics insist upon a corpus on our crosses - for the suffering of Christ continues, even to this day, as we, the members of His Body - even His glorious and risen Body - carry with us the meaning of the evil we are redeeming, and continue to suffer for it along with him.  "Joyful suffering with Christ on the Cross". 

Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church. (Col. 1:24)


***

I don't know about you, but I find this very liberating.   I sometimes feel guilty or ashamed that I'm not as glib and gung-ho of a Christian as I ought to be.  I feel embarrassed about my sins, confused that things that I've done to others or that they've done to me still cause me so much pain.  And I feel guilty that I feel guilty.  Why should I still mourn over sin and suffering?  After all, we're forgiven in the confessional; we're Easter people, aren't we?  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Why not have an empty cross to remind us of that?  Why not join in with the sappy sentimentality of the tunes the cantor is singing and at least be up-beat, even if I can't exactly rejoice?

Why?  Because a Church without a crucifix is a shallow, empty thing - and celebrating a risen Christ without acknowledging His wounds becomes grandstanding, glad handing; it becomes a pale imitation of positive thinking and it feels like faux fellowship.  It becomes self-consuming and phony.  It communicates by means of stale salesmanship a kind of pop psychology without the psychology.

For God does not wipe the slate clean, even when He wipes away every tear (Rev. 21:4); even when He forgives us and creates us anew in the regeneration of Baptism.  In His Divine Mercy, He allows the effects of sin to remain - we keep our wounds as Christ keeps His.  And this is not merely to keep us humble, but because even the wrong we do (when we repent of it and are forgiven) and the wrongs done to us (when we have forgiven those who wronged us) become matter for something more tremendous - an eternal weight of glory that includes even the weight of the cross. (see 2 Cor. 4:17)


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April 19th, 2014Easter in the Christian Eastby Brendan D. King

In the Christian East, there is a very long tradition of congregational singing, as I have noticed in my many visits to both Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic parishes. At no time of the Church year have I felt the floor shake as thunderously as does during the Paschal Season.

The reason for this is simple: it the Easter Chant "The Angel Cried," which may be compared to the Latin  Hymn, "Regina Caeli, Jubila."

Two beautiful renditions may be heard below.

In English:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jqkI96JYbJg 

And in the original Old Church Slavonic:

The Angel Cried in Church Slavonic

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April 18th, 2014Good Friday in the Christian Eastby Brendan D. King

When their meanings are compared, the traditional prayers and chants for Good Friday are very similar in both Eastern and Western Christendom. Among the most sublimely beautiful prayers in either tradition is the Old Church Slavonic chant "The Noble Joseph," which centers around Christ's burial by Joseph of Arimathea. The rendition which appears on the CD "Sacred Treasures: Choral Masterworks from Russia" may be listened to below:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=FU8YFNFg0JQ

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April 18th, 2014An Irish Gaelic Lament for the Passion of Christby Brendan D. King

In many countries in Catholic Europe, there are traditional folk songs which retell the events of Our Lord's birth, ministry, Passion, and death. From Ireland and Scotland to Hungary, lullabies are sung to the Christ Child in persona Maria. Similar songs are also sung about Our Lord's Passion.

A prime example may be seen at the link below, which leads to a Good Friday dirge sung in the Connemara dialect of Irish Gaelic. It takes the role of a dialogue between Christ and His Blessed Mother. In its climax, He comforts her by saying that countless other women, as yet unborn, shall also weep over His Passion and death.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4pUOpdgTWM

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April 18th, 2014The Quotable Boris Pasternakby Brendan D. King

Outside of Russia, Boris Pasternak is best known as the author of "DoctorZhivago." In Russia, he is better known as a poet, literary translator, and pioneer of the Soviet Dissident movement.

With two exceptions, the following quotations are from "Meetings with Pasternak," by Alexander Gladkov. Gladkov, a Soviet playwright and GULAG survivor, befriended Pasternak when they wrre both evacuated from Moscow during World War II. Their friendship continued, with interruptions, until Pasternak's death in 1960.

The other quotes were supplied from Olga Ivinskaya's "A Captive of Time: My Years with Pasternak." Ivinskaya, a widow with two children, began a relationship with a married Pasternak in 1948. She is best known as the inspiration for Pasternak's greatest poetry and for the character of Lara in "Doctor Zhivago."

For a non-Russian audience, Pasternak's references to Pushkin will need clarification. Alexander Pushkin, a Russian aristocrat of partially Black African descent, is universally acknowledged as Russia's greatest poet and one of her greatest playwrights and prose stylists. He is also regarded as the quintessential Russian. This is Pasternak's reason for using Pushkin to argue against racism.

Holy Week Blessings,

Brendan

Page 72. "The salvation of real art from the steady advance of bogus art -- much more to be feared than incomprehension or indifference -- is not to be found in working harder at it. Art is inconcievable without risk, without spiritual self sacrifice, and without freedom or boldness of the imagination. Real art always comes as a surprise. You cannot foresee the unpredictable, or regulate the unruly..."

Page 73. "In order to exist, evil must masqerade as good. The pretense alone makes it immoral. One may say that rvil always had an inferiotity complex; it does not dare to be frank. Intellectuals of Nietzsche's kind thought that the chief trouble about evil was just this -- its sense of inferiority, its propensity to disguise itself as its opposite. They believed that evil had only to fly its true colors for it to become moral. But evil cannot do this: even the Nazis have to dress up the blackest of their crimes -- racism -- in various arguments about its benefits to the German people."

"I have Jewish blood in my veins, but nothing is more alien to me than Jewish nationalism -- except perhaps, Great Russian chauvinism. On this issue I'm all for complete Jewish assimilation and personally I only feel at home in Russian culture, with its great range of influences, as did Pushkin..." --February 10, 1942.

Page 78. Next... we talked about Stalin and the question which so preoccupied people in the Thirties and Forties: did Stalin himself know all about the crimes of his repressive regime? ...After a brief pause for thought Pasternak said: "If he knows nothing, then that is also a crime -- perhaps the greatest of which a leader can be guilty."

He went on to speak of Stalin as, "a giant of the Pre-Christian era of human history." I asked whether he had perhaps meant to say, "of the Post-Christian era," but he insisted upon the way he had put it and gave his reasons at great length. But I did not put any of this down.-- February 20, 1942.

Page 90. "In our days political denunciation is not so much an activity as a whole philosophy..."

"The number of amoral, cruel, vicious ideas which came in under the cloak of the great word Revolution!"

Page 134. "History is life's answer to the challenge of death -- it is the conquest of death with the help of memory and time. History is naturally a product of the Christian era. Before it, there were only myths, which are anti-historical by their very nature. The prime feature of the Christian era is that it fixed historical events in time. Myths are outside time..."

"I am not in the least worried by this talk of Anti-Semitism which sometimes seems to start up quite suddenly... The theory of race is quite specious and is needed only to justify odious practice. Try to explain the Mulatto Pushkin from a racist or extreme nationalist viewpoint!" --1947.

Page 138. "I like the Russian literature of the first half of the nineteenth century and that of the second half of the twentieth." --1947.

Page 145. At the end of the summer of 1954, among the first of the great wave of 'rehabilitated prisoners let out of the camps, I returned to Moscow after an absence of six years. And before long at the same writer's savings bank in Lavrushinski Street where we first met, I saw Pasternak again. As I went in he was filling out a check at the counter. When I spoke to him, he turned round, looked closely at me, recognized me, and embraced me warmly....We went out together.... The one volume edition of his poems, which he had given me during the war with such a kind dedication, had been sent out to me in the camps from home, and I had kept it by me throughout my years of imprisonment. I had usually got up earlier than everyone else in the barracks in order to read it in the mornings, and if someone ever prevented me from doing so, I always felt as though. I had not washed. "Oh, if only I had known this then, in those black years!" he said. "Life would have been so much more bearable just to think that I was 'out there' too..."

All subsequent quotes are from Olga Ivinskaya and were spoken under Nikita Khrushchev.

Page 142. At this period, Boris Leonidovich was reading George Orwell's "Animal Farm" in the English original and he hugely enjoyed this merciless satire about a society of animals which mutiny against their human masters, and then gradually revert to a wretched caricature of their original condition. The animals were presided over by a fat hog who vividly reminded Boris Leonidovich of our head of state.

Page 323. "I can't hear very well. And there's a mist in front of my eyes. But it will go away, won't it? Don't forget to open the window tomorrow." --Last words, May 30, 1960.

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April 18th, 2014Holy Thursdayby Dena Hunt

There is no pain, no suffering—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—that was not experienced by our Lord during this time we call Holy Week, even the ultimate pain of abandonment by God. Beginning on Holy Thursday until the arrival of Easter vigil, we witness the spectacle of a story we can never remember having learned. It is knowledge we were born with, acid-etched in the human soul from its origin. All the tragedies and heartbreaks we will ever bear, our physical pain, our despair, have their reference point there, in the Way of the Cross. No wonder we flee from it.

  During Lent, we made little sacrifices of pleasures or comforts, a tradition of “practicing” for Holy Week. But we silently say to ourselves,This isn’t it, this isn’t anything like it. And of course, it isn’t. And so, here it is now, and whatever acts of charity we performed during Lent, whatever little sacrifices we made, it’s not enough. We’re not prepared. Why? Because something happens to experience as a group, within a tradition or liturgy: It gets de-personalized, becomes abstract.

  A week ago today, I had some frightening news as a result of a routine medical test. Further tests were needed. For five days and nights, I lived in fear, until Tuesday morning, when I heard, “It’s okay. See you next year.” I’m 71. I’d been there before, and God willing, I’ll be there again. But this time was different. Normally, one fights fear. One doesn’t give in to it. One wants to pray and then let it go—as my aunt has described it, “like mailing a letter.” That’s the rational approach, the grown-up way, the right attitude, and it was my first response.

  But I couldn’t make that “work” this time. I mean that it did not bring the expected peace, the relief from an agony of anxiety and aloneness that it should have brought to a rational, grown-up person of faith. Why not? Well, I don’t know. I just know that, for whatever reason, the letter would not be mailed. Maybe it was my weakness, or maybe it was a very rough grace, and maybe not knowing which is actually the roughest part of that grace….

  Tonight, the priest will wash my feet. I’ve done that once before, with the standard-issue slight embarrassment and determination to participate in liturgy I revere. And after Mass, I will follow the Blessed Sacrament with others into the chapel of repose, accompanying our Lord. There I’ll give thanks for Holy Thursday, for weakness, and for rough grace.

 

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April 18th, 2014Easter with Flannery O’Connorby Joseph Pearce

Here's a brief but excellent article by George Weigel on the faith of Flannery O'Connor:

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/04/easter-with-flannery-oconnor?utm_source=First+Things+Subscribers&utm_campaign=863917b6d4-4_17_144_17_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28bf775c26-863917b6d4-172561709

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April 18th, 2014The Damage Done by Almost Sinningby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

As we reflect during the Triduum of the effects of sin - sin which battered and bruised Our Lord, betrayed Him, tormented Him, abandoned Him, killed Him, pierced Him - as we reflect upon that, something occurs to me.

While I have written a lot on the nature and the effects of sin, there's one part of it that I have said little about and that we hardly ever focus on as Christians.

And that is the damage done by "near sin" - or by doing things from the perspective of the world rather than of God.  For much of what we do that harms us and harms others are things that are not quite sins, but are certainly not holy.

These things are typically Compromises with Integrity.

In other words, they are things that we would not think of mentioning in the confessional, but that are selfish and turned away from God all the same.  They may not be sins per se, or if they are, they are the kind of sins that easily go undetected, slipping under the radar.  And yet they often involve very big decisions and have tremendous impact on our lives.

For example  ...

  • You decide to marry someone, not because he or she would make a good spouse, but because of extraneous and ultimately selfish motives: 
    • worry about not finding anybody else to marry, 
    • marrying for economic or career motives, 
    • overlooking red flags such as alcoholism, laziness, or abusive behavior

  • You cut corners in your business dealings.  You do this to improve the bottom line, but in so doing, perhaps you
    • provide shoddy service to your clients
    • cheat your employees out of a living wage
    • contribute to the atmosphere of dishonesty and mistrust in the marketplace.  

  • You spend a lot of extra time at work to make more money for your family, but meanwhile
    • your daughter is left unsupervised and gets involved in seamy behavior online
    • your wife, frustrated by having an absentee husband, turns to food or television or other soporifics to cope with her frustration
    • you develop emotionally intimate relationships with coworkers of the opposite sex, since you're spending all your time with them away from home


... and so on.

This kind of thing is going on all the time, all around us, among devout Christians and nominal Christians both.  And hardly anybody is talking about it.

These things may not clearly be sins, but they are sinful or at least selfish - and certainly they are unwise.  

It may be hard to categorize them until we see them for what they are - works of the flesh, not fruit of the Spirit; acts borne of the threefold lust which is "of the world" (1 John 2:16) - and is therefore not of God.



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April 17th, 2014Francis Thompson Comes in Many Guisesby Joseph Pearce

Visitors to the Ink Desk will know that I've been working with Emblem Media on several projects related to Francis Thompson's masterpiece, "The Hound of Heaven". I travelled with the film crew to England in January to film a half-hour documentary on Thompson's life, serving as historical consultant and being interviewed on camera. I've also been involved to a lesser degree in offering feedback on the other "Hound of Heaven" related projects that Emblem Media has been producing, including an animated film that dramatizes a modern adaptation of the poem. Now, I'm pleased to announce the release of the video of a four-minute song based on the poem. The connection with Thompson's poem will be more immediately evident if the poem is read before watching the video or if the video of the modern adaptation is watched first. Either way, the song, inspired by one of the greatest Christian poems ever written, is well worth hearing in its own right. Here 'tis:  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDS4YD0gnK0

 

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April 16th, 2014Joyful Sufferingby Joseph Pearce

Many years ago I had been struck by some words spoken by a fictional priest in a Maurice Baring novel that the acceptance of suffering was the secret of life. This one phrase seemed to encapsulate so much. Since we are all doomed to suffer it is not suffering but its acceptance that makes the difference.

Later, during my time with Fr Ho Lung and Missionaries of the Poor in Jamaica, I came to see that sanctity required more than merely the acceptance of suffering. Holiness meant moving beyond the acceptance of suffering to its joyful embrace. This deeper understanding was encapsulated in the motto of the Missionaries of the Poor: "Joyful Suffering with Christ on the Cross". The key word in this phrase, the word that literally unlocks the deepest meaning of the motto, is not the magisterial "Christ" or the crucial "Cross", nor is it "joyful" or "suffering". The key word is the humble preposition "with". Holiness is not contemplation of the joyful suffering of Christ on the Cross, it is the act of joyful suffering with Christ on the Cross.   

This level of sanctity was achieved to an astonishing degree by Chiara Corbella, a young Italian who died in 2012 at the age of only twenty-eight. She died so that her child might live. I have prayed to her often.

Those wishing to know more about this holy and inspiring woman should read on:     

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/chiara-corbella-a-witness-to-joy

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April 16th, 2014Father Milward and Father Jakiby Joseph Pearce

I was gratified to receive a note from the venerable Father Peter Milward, best known to the world for his pioneering Shakespeare studies, his correspondence with C. S. Lewis, and his musings on the poetry of Hopkins. Father Milward's note was a response to the preview of the forthcoming issue of the St. Austin Review that I posted on Monday. I announced that the issue's theme will be "Science and Orthodoxy: The Legacy of Fr. Stanley L Jaki", prompting Father Milward to reminisce about his own meeting with Father Jaki and their shared passion for the Catholic Shakespeare.

Here's the text of Father Milward's note:

I, too, once met the great Father Jaki at Princeton University.  He came to meet me at the station and drove me round the university in the pouring rain.  He had no idea that I would have preferred to discuss his ideas on Shakespeare before a blazing fire than to see his university.  For he was, among other interests, a great Shakespearian and an ardent advocate of his Catholicism.  Not that he ever published a book of his own on Shakespeare the Papist, but he republished J.H. De Groot's seminal work on The Shakespeares and the Old Faith (1946).  He was a unique case of a combination of scientist and humanist, a follower of both Shakespeare and Galileo.  Another good friend of mine was also an admirer of Father Jaki, Dr Peter Hodgson of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, a well known Catholic physicist and member of the Pontifical Academy of Science.  And Peter was also a great admirer of Duhem.  With my best wishes,  Peter SJ

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April 14th, 2014Confessions of an English Immigrantby Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative describes my view as an English immigrant of my adoptive home in the United States. Here it is:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/04/became-american-european-view-of-america.html


And here's Father Dwight Longenecker's comment on it:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2014/04/joseph-pearce-the-enthusiastic-immigrant.html

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April 14th, 2014Preview of the May/June Issue of the St. Austin Reviewby Joseph Pearce

The next issue of the St. Austin Review is winging its way to the printers. The theme of this edition is “Science and Orthodoxy: The Legacy of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki”. Considering the science-related theme, I hope you will consider forwarding this to any of your scientist colleagues who might be interested.

Highlights of the issue include:

Joseph Pearce reminisces about “a Meeting with Father Jaki”.

Antonio Colombo revisits the life and legacy of Father Jaki along “Paths that are Made by Walking”.

Beniamino Danese finds that “the Truth of the Pudding is in the Eating” in his survey of Father Jaki’s work.

Julio Gonzalo asks the crucial question, “Science: Western or What?”

Stacy Trasancos examines “Fr. Jaki and the Stillbirths of Science”.

Jacques Vauthier describes Fr. Jaki as “the Real Follower of Pierre Duhem”.

Anne Barbeau Gardiner compares “the Real versus the Mythical Newman”.

John Beaumont offers some “Concluding Thoughts” on “the Real Fr. Stanley Jaki”.

In one of two full-colour art features Sue Kouma Johnson describes her work as “Catholic Art for the Modern World”.

In the other full-colour art feature Ali Cavanaugh charts “An Artist’s Evolution … From Embryonic Beginnings”.

Kevin O’Brien reveals “How I Became Fr. Stanley Jaki”.

Donald DeMarco distinguishes between “Science and Loose Talk”.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker exposes “That Hideous Scientism”.

Fr. Benedict Kiely compares “The Oath and the Mandate”.

Susan Treacy tells the “Tale of a Younger Brother”, a pen portrait of Michael Haydn.

James Bemis continues his series of reviews of great films with Kieslowski’s Decalogue.

Grettelyn Nypaver reviews Death Dons a Mask, Lorraine Murray’s latest mystery novel.

Dena Hunt reviews The Song at the Scaffold, Gertrud von le Fort’s classic historical novel.

Shaun Blanchard admires Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome: Essays in Honor of James V. Schall, SJ”.

Marie Dudzik reviews The Book Of Jotham, Arthur Powers’ award-winning novella.

Robert Merchant enjoys The Voice of the Church at Prayer, Uwe Michael Lang’s “reflections on liturgy and language”.

Louis Markos reviews Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love by Joseph Pearce.

Dena Hunt has this issue’s last word, musing on “Tolkien and Women”.

All this plus new poetry by Trevor Lipscombe and Philip Kolin.

 

Join the Wise Men – Follow the StAR! Subscribe on-line at www.staustinreview.com.  

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April 14th, 2014Dante and the Papacyby Daniel J. Heisey

            If a Catholic layman criticizes a Pope, other critics of the Church say he is brave and open-minded; if a Pope were to criticize a layman, those critics would call the Pope repressive and judgmental.  Along these lines, less important is Dante Alighieri using his Divine Comedy to condemn Pope Boniface VIII or other Bishops of Rome to the depths of the Inferno, than how a modern Pope has appreciated and promoted Dante.

So far the only papal encyclical on Dante has been In praeclara summorum, promulgated in April of 1921 by Pope Benedict XV.  The occasion was the upcoming 600th anniversary of Dante’s death, and the Pope noted that the event would be marked by scholarly conferences and added, “Surely we cannot be absent from this universal consensus of good men,” since “the Church has special right to call Alighieri hers.”

This encyclical came fifty years after the First Vatican Council, and it followed up that Council’s teaching about the relationship between faith and reason.  Pope Benedict XV related that Dante was a keen reader of Saint Thomas Aquinas, from whom “he gained nearly all his philosophical and theological knowledge.”  Pope Benedict also pointed out Dante’s debts to the Bible and to the Church Fathers.

“Thus,” wrote the Pope, Dante “learned almost all that could be known in his time.”  Moreover, Dante was “nourished specially by Christian knowledge,” so that “it was on that field of religion that he drew when he set himself to treat in verse of things so vast and deep.”  Since Dante’s Divine Comedy and all his writings focus on the doctrines of the Catholic faith, said the Pope, “we think that these things may serve as teaching for men of our times.”

Along with reverence for Scripture and Tradition, Dante had “great reverence for the authority of the Catholic Church, the account in which he holds the power of the Roman Pontiff as the base of every law and institution of that Church.”  Still, Pope Benedict had to acknowledge Dante’s sometimes harsh criticisms.  “But, it will be said,” the Pope conceded, “he inveighs with terrible bitterness against the Supreme Pontiffs of his times.”  Of that fact there was no denying, and Dante’s bitterness towards Pope Boniface VIII derived from the role he played in Dante’s political exile from his beloved city of Florence.

With that situation in mind, Pope Benedict XV looked upon Dante’s invective with pastoral charity:  “One can feel for a man so beaten down by fortune, if with lacerated mind he breaks out sometimes into words of excessive blame.”  Also, “it cannot be denied that at that time there were matters on which the clergy might be reproved, and a mind as devoted to the Church as was that of Dante could not but feel disgust.”

            Yet, for all his revulsion at certain temporal machinations by Popes and others in the Church hierarchy, Dante never rejected the principle of papal primacy.  Even in his treatise on monarchy, often misread as a charter for world government or as a case for the superiority of the Holy Roman Emperor over the Pope, Dante reiterated the assertion of Pope Gelasius in the late fifth century, that in the end the authority of priests trumps the power of kings, since priests deal with immortal souls, while kings deal with mortal concerns.  “Excellent and wise principle indeed,” Pope Benedict agreed, “which, if it were observed today as it ought to be, would bring to States abundant fruits of civil prosperity.”

            Pope Benedict’s words now seem prophetic, for he wrote a few years after the end of the First World War and the outbreak of the Russian Revolution.  He seems to have foreseen the tyranny masquerading as populism and altruism that would mar Europe for decades to come.  He pointed out that Dante “was not a man to maintain, for the purpose of giving greater glory to country or pleasure to ruler, that the State may neglect justice and right, which he knew well to be the main foundation of civil nations.”

            With this encyclical Pope Benedict XV was putting on notice the secular powers of the day that the Church was aware of their trajectory that would seek to exclude faith from public discourse.  For him, Dante was proof of “the falseness of the assertion that obedience of mind and heart to God is a hindrance to genius.”  The example of Dante also shows “the harm done to the cause of learning and civilization by such a desire to banish all idea of religion from public instruction.”

The Pope then minced no words:  “Deplorable indeed is the system prevalent today of educating young students as if God did not exist and without the least reference to the supernatural.”  His hope was that scholarly celebrations of Dante on his 600th anniversary would counteract secular efforts to separate faith and reason.

            A year later, Pope Benedict XV was dead, and his successors, first Pope Pius XI and then Pope Pius XII, had to contend with secular states in Europe that had no regard for the rightly ordered society envisioned by Dante.  Those secular governments embraced various forms of state socialism and waged wars whilst promising to build Heaven on Earth, a paradise as potentially benevolent as one’s big brother.  Popes saw what Dante had seen, that man without the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wanders in his own wasteland.

In April, 1999, Pope John Paul II mentioned Dante in a Letter to Artists, and in January, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI began an address to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum with an extended reference to Dante’s Paradiso and the importance of divine love.  It is unclear, though, whether we are seeing an emerging papal teaching about Dante.  In any case, we ought to follow the lead of Pope Benedict XV and meditate less on whom Dante damns and more on his love for the Church.

 

 

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

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April 14th, 2014A Pilgrimage to Englandby Joseph Pearce

I've been contacted by a religious sister seeking suggestions for a pilgrimage to London and Oxford in the footsteps of the English Martyrs and Literary Converts. My suggestions were written in haste, without checking my facts, so it's possible, indeed likely, that I have made factual errors. With this disclaimer in mind, I thought visitors to the Ink Desk might also be interested in these suggested places to visit:

Regarding your possible pilgrimage to England, I'm attaching the itinerary of two pilgrimages to England that I led a few years ago. These might give you some ideas.

Other suggestions:

In London: 

Brompton Oratory (I would recommend the 11 am Traditional Mass on Sunday); 
Church of the Immaculate Conception in Farm Street, Mayfair (a beautiful church in which many notable converts have been received, including, I think, Evelyn Waugh and Edith Sitwell. Famous priests based here include the Jesuits, Martin D'Arcy and Philip Caraman, who had contacts with many of the best known converts);
Westminster Cathedral - especially as a pilgrimage to the tomb of the English Martyr, St. Robert Southworth, whose body, stitched together after its being hanged, drawn and quartered, is on display in a glass case;
Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, near Covent Garden - a quaint little church at which, I think, Cecil Chesterton was received into the Church, and which Belloc and Chesterton would have frequented on their visits to London;
St. Etheldreda's, Ely Place - full of history because it was in use as a Catholic church during the Reformation, enjoying diplomatic immunity because of its connection to foreign embassies (I think);
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese - a pub, in an alley on the north side of Fleet Street, at which Chesterton, Belloc, Shelley, Dr. Johnson and a host of other prominent literati have supped over the centuries. Be sure to check out the two levels of cellar bars. It's largely unchanged since Chesterton's time and used to serve good food.
The Tower of London - if you apply in advance you should be able to visit the cell at which St. Thomas More spent his final days.
Tyburn - The site is in the middle of a busy traffic island, so there's not much to see. I would recommend that you visit the Tyburn Convent, a hundred yards or so away.

In Oxford: 

Tolkien's and Lewis's graves
Magdalen College (Lewis, Wilde and others)
The Eagle and Child Pub (aka the Bird and Baby), where Lewis, Tolkien and the other Inklings met regularly
The Trout - You should plan to walk from the Bird and Baby to the Trout in Wolvercote. It's about three miles along the river, passing through the Binsey Poplars, immortalized by Hopkins (which have been replanted) and close to the ruins of Godstow Abbey. The Trout was a favourite destination of Lewis and Tolkien and they would have done this walk often, as would have Hopkins
Oxford Oratory - Beautiful church at which Hopkins served and at which the Latin Mass is celebrated
Littlemore and other sites associated with Newman

Priest Holes:

Unfortunately the houses in which priest holes are to be found are in inaccessible places which will require the renting of a vehicle. If you feel that you might be able to include the renting of a vehicle, I will provide further details.

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April 10th, 2014Catholic Coffee: Spoils and Legendsby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

Over at Catholic Exchange, Sam Guzman of The Catholic Gentleman discusses a very interesting legend about Pope Clement VIII blessing coffee and assuring its popularity for all posterity in the West. I am unsure if it is true, but thank God for it.

Really, though, I just wanted to post this image.

Now, the story of how coffee came to the west is even more interesting for me. For, you see, it is from the spoils of war and the lifting of a great siege.

The city of Vienna had resisted a massive Ottoman army in 1683 until Jan III Sobieski of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth brought relief and routed Kara Mustaph's massive force. The Ottoman army fled so quickly that they left behind many great spoils, including bags of coffee, a substance that was known to some parts of Christendom but quite new to Europe.

Vienna, Europe, and the World owe a great debt of gratitude to one particular man,  Franz George Kolschitzky. According to most reliable sources, Kolschitzky was a well-traveled and learned man who knew the value of the precious, dark commodity. He is credited with teaching brewing techniques to the Viennese. He opened the first of what would be numerous coffee houses in Vienna and was honored with accolades and even a statue. You can read more about him and the fallout of these spoils here.

Of course, Vienna's coffee houses quickly became meeting spaces for some of the most brilliant of minds. If we are to believe some modern scholarship (ahem) we can credit/blame these places of the sacred brew for psychoanalysis, Marxism, and perhaps a few modern wars.

Ah, let's not think of this and let's instead get one of my readers to send me a few pounds of Ozo.Franz George Kolschitzky, a patron saint of Catholic Coffee Drinkers 

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April 9th, 2014Is Putin One of Us? (An old-fashioned Conservative?)by Joseph Pearce

Via Patrick J. Buchanan, http://buchanan.org/blog/putin-one-us-6071

Is Vladimir Putin a paleoconservative?

In the culture war for mankind's future, is he one of us?

While such a question may be blasphemous in Western circles, consider the content of the Russian president's state of the nation address.

With America clearly in mind, Putin declared, "In many countries today, moral and ethical norms are being reconsidered."

"They're now requiring not only the proper acknowledgment of freedom of conscience, political views and private life, but also the mandatory acknowledgment of the equality of good and evil."

Translation: While privacy and freedom of thought, religion and speech are cherished rights, to equate traditional marriage and same-sex marriage is to equate good with evil.

No moral confusion here, this is moral clarity, agree or disagree.

President Reagan once called the old Soviet Empire "the focus of evil in the modern world." President Putin is implying that Barack Obama's America may deserve the title in the 21st century.

Nor is he without an argument when we reflect on America's embrace of abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, pornography, promiscuity, and the whole panoply of Hollywood values.

Our grandparents would not recognize the America in which we live.

Moreover, Putin asserts, the new immorality has been imposed undemocratically.

The "destruction of traditional values" in these countries, he said, comes "from the top" and is "inherently undemocratic because it is based on abstract ideas and runs counter to the will of the majority of people."

Does he not have a point?

Unelected justices declared abortion and homosexual acts to be constitutionally protected rights. Judges have been the driving force behind the imposition of same-sex marriage. Attorney General Eric Holder refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.

America was de-Christianized in the second half of the 20th century by court orders, over the vehement objections of a huge majority of a country that was overwhelmingly Christian.

And same-sex marriage is indeed an "abstract" idea unrooted in the history or tradition of the West. Where did it come from?

Peoples all over the world, claims Putin, are supporting Russia's "defense of traditional values" against a "so-called tolerance" that is "genderless and infertile."

While his stance as a defender of traditional values has drawn the mockery of Western media and cultural elites, Putin is not wrong in saying that he can speak for much of mankind.

Same-sex marriage is supported by America's young, but most states still resist it, with black pastors visible in the vanguard of the counterrevolution.

In France, a million people took to the streets of Paris to denounce the Socialists' imposition of homosexual marriage.

Only 15 nations out of more than 190 have recognized it.

In India, the world's largest democracy, the Supreme Court has struck down a lower court ruling that made same-sex marriage a right. And the parliament in this socially conservative nation of more than a billion people is unlikely soon to reverse the high court.

In the four dozen nations that are predominantly Muslim, which make up a fourth of the U.N. General Assembly and a fifth of mankind, same-sex marriage is not even on the table. And Pope Francis has reaffirmed Catholic doctrine on the issue for over a billion Catholics.

While much of American and Western media dismiss him as an authoritarian and reactionary, a throwback, Putin may be seeing the future with more clarity than Americans still caught up in a Cold War paradigm.

As the decisive struggle in the second half of the 20th century was vertical, East vs. West, the 21st century struggle may be horizontal, with conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite.

And though America's elite may be found at the epicenter of anti-conservatism and anti-traditionalism, the American people have never been more alienated or more divided culturally, socially and morally.

We are two countries now.

Putin says his mother had him secretly baptized as a baby and professes to be a Christian. And what he is talking about here is ambitious, even audacious.

He is seeking to redefine the "Us vs. Them" world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent west.

"We do not infringe on anyone's interests," said Putin, "or try to teach anyone how to live." The adversary he has identified is not the America we grew up in, but the America we live in, which Putin sees as pagan and wildly progressive.

Without naming any country, Putin attacked "attempts to enforce more progressive development models" on other nations, which have led to "decline, barbarity and big blood," a straight shot at the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Egypt.

In his speech, Putin cited Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev whom Solzhenitsyn had hailed for his courage in defying his Bolshevik inquisitors. Though no household word, Berdyaev is favorably known at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal.

Which raises this question: Who is writing Putin's stuff?

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April 9th, 2014Vladimir Putin: Some Rare and Welcome Common Senseby Joseph Pearce

So much rubbish has been written about Vladimir Putin over the past weeks that I was very pleased to receive an excellent rebuttal of some of the worst nonsense. It was written by Dr. Boyd Cathey, a former colleague of the late Russell Kirk, who has granted me permission to publish his solid, fact-based appraisal of Putin.

Dr. Cathey writes in response to an article by North Carolina Congressman, Robert Pittengeer:  

This has got to be the most uninformed piece on the issue that I have read in weeks (and there have been many such ignorant pieces)!  Pittenger cannot even sum up well the usual Neocon "talking points," much less understand what they have been writing, correctly.

Just one example to illustrate my point: Pittenger trots out the old saw that Putin, and let me quote, "clearly stated his objectives years ago when he said that the worst tragedy of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet empire."

Any decent researcher or honest journalist, any self-respecting congressman, who had minimum knowledge, would know just what Putin said and the absolutely necessary context. Putin, who was perhaps the chief reason why the August 1991 KGB coup against Russia's transition away from Communism, failed, was talking specifically about the break up of the Soviet Union (the original interview is in the volume First Person, and is quoted by Prof. Allen Lynch in his detailed study, Vladimir Putin and Russian Statecraft) in relation to the immense economic, social, cultural, and linguistic problems that the separation of fifteen constituent republics occasioned---many of which had been integrally part of older pre-Bolshevik Russia (prior to 1918) for hundreds of years. There had developed indelible economic ties and dependency, large overlaps in population (e.g., the fact that half of the population of Ukraine speaks Russian and 25% are ethnically Russian, or that a quarter of the population of Kazakhstan is Russian). A similar situation took place with the break up of the old Autro-Hungarian state after World War II...most of the newly independent states in the Balkans were incapable of economic and social security and economic success. More, huge groups of Germans, Hungarians, Poles, Bulgars, and Croats were left in areas then ruled by those new states (e.g., Sudetenland, overwhelmingly German, in Czechoslovakia; Transylvania, populated by Hungarians, in Romania). It was a recipe for disaster and future war---World War II, and the resultant millions of deaths that followed (thank you, liberal democracy! Thank you, Woodrow Wilson and Treaty of Versailles!)

Specifically, that model for disaster was what Putin was referencing, and he was exactly on target. He was NOT advocating the re-establishment of the Soviet regime, which he openly and has repeatedly condemned. No better source than Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the USSR, Jack Matlock, has written at length saying the same thing. Lastly, and again ironically, this statement by Putin, ripped out of context, was made at approximately the same time that Putin had gone to Poland to formally denounce Communist crimes and massacres (e.g. Katyn Forest, the gulags). 

Pittenger states that Putin is a "bully" (I was expecting to read the term "thug" or perhaps "KGB thug," since these are the terms that the neoconservative press habitually enjoys using). Let me go back and just cite one or two examples of this ambitious "KGB bully" who wishes to "re-assert the power of the KGB" and "re-establish the Soviet Union." 

First, Putin was NEVER the "head of the KGB," as Greta van Susteren and several Fox News "talking heads" repeatedly assert. He had a desk job in evaluating intelligence, as a Lt. Colonel, in Dresden, before coming back to Leningrad, to serve as Deputy Mayor to the very pro-Western, democratic Anatoly Sobchak (see Lynch, pp 27-39). Putin had, by then, resigned from the KGB.

There is an interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Der Spiegel, in which Solzhenitsyn--that staunch anti-Communist--fully understands this  and expresses his strong support for Putin as president of Russia. [By the way, Putin and Medvedev arranged a state funeral for Solzhenitsyn in 2008, and both attended, and both praised the writer, whose works are now required reading in all Russian schools.] So, then, was the great and intransigent anti-Communist Solzhenitsyn "snookered" by that "KGB thug"?

Second, let me quote Lynch concerning the abortive Communist coup by the old hands at the KGB, August 1991 (p. 34): "During the August 1991 anti-Gorbachev coup attempt, Putin played a key role in saving Leningrad for the democrats. The coup, which lasted but three days, was carried out on August 19. That same day Mayor Sobchak arrived on a flight from Moscow. The Leningrad KGB, which supported the coup, planned to arrest Sobchak immediately upon landing. Putin got word of the plan and took decisive and preemptive action: he organized a handful of loyal troops and met Sobchak at the airport, driving the car right up to the plane's exit ramp. The KGB turned back, not wishing to risk an open confrontation with Sobchak's armed entourage [led by Putin]."  This signal failure in Russia's second city doomed the attempted KGB coup, and, in effect, assured the eventual transition of Russia away from Communism.

I've written about this at length previously, perhaps ten or twelve pieces. I will not go back and re-write what I've already sent out. Additionally, for anyone who actually wishes to become well-informed, the information is there, with a little research. Obviously, Pittenger prefers to regurgitate the old sputum that continually comes up and is continually spewed forth by Fox and the keystone cops in the US State Department.

Let me add, that given this piece by Pittenger, I would not vote for him were he running against even my local garbage collector, who at least knows the difference between garbage and legitimate information.

Dr. Boyd D. Cathey holds an MA in American intellectual history from the University of Virginia where he was a Jefferson Fellow. In 1971-72, he was assistant to the late Dr. Russell Kirk, assisting Kirk on two volumes, Eliot and His Age and The Roots of American Order. As recipient of a Richard M. Weaver Fellowship he completed a doctorate in European history at the University of Navarra, later finishing studies in theology in Switzerland. He recently retired as State Registrar of the North Carolina State Archives.

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April 9th, 2014What Chesterton Saw in Americaby Joseph Pearce

My latest musings for The Imaginative Conservative are inspired by Chesterton's visits to and views on the United States:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/04/chesterton-saw-in-america.html

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April 9th, 2014International Award for Catholic Composerby Joseph Pearce

I'm greatly encouraged by the news that a major international music award has been won by my friend, Frank LaRocca, who was recently interviewed for the St. Austin Review by our regular music columnist, Susan Treacy..

Frank, a revert to the Faith after decades in the wilderness, won the prestigious award for his Miserere, which is being performed at Carnegie Hall on May 23 and at the Cathedral in Washington DC on Wednesday of Holy Week. 

After a career in the world of secular classical music Mr La Rocca returned to the Catholic faith after 42 years. For the past 10 years his works have been primarily a cappella sacred texts. Mr. La Rocca recently won The Khorikos International New Music Competition which included over 600 applicants from around the world. This was a not a Catholic or a sacred music contest, but a contest of new works by living composers.  The piece which won the contest, Miserere,is being performed at at Carnegie Hall May 23. He also won a prize for his CREDO from the Sacred Arts Foundation in 2010, and has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council.

The Cathedral in Washington D.C. is performing Miserere for Tenebrae Mass this Holy Wednesday. The choice by music director Thomas Stehle  to perform Miserere occurred prior to the presentation of the award. He has previously performed the composer's O Magnum Mysterium at the Cathedral.

Mr. La Rocca's recent CD  In This Place, which includes Miserere,  was selected as a Critic's Choice for 2013 by Lindsay Koob at American Record Guide https://www.blogger.com/profile/11647996559368071461

This same CD was the listed in the top 10 most popular classical music CDs on Amazon in August 2013.  http://www.amazon.com/This-Place-Artists-Vocal-Ensemble/dp/B00AOCMRX2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1391995403&sr=8-2&keywords=In+this+Place

Mr. LaRocca is currently composing polyphonic Communion Propers for the Lumen Christi Missal by Illuminare Publications  https://illuminarepublications.com/choral-propers-from-frank-la-rocca/

St Rita's parish of Dallas Texas has commissioned Mr. La Rocca to compose an oratory of the life of St Rita. St Rita's parish is a large parish with a thriving Fine Arts ministry http://www.stritaparish.net/index.cfm?load=page&page=80

Mr. La Rocca has been a guest lecturer at Notre Dame and at UC Berkeley speaking on the The Apologetics of Beauty  http://blogs.nd.edu/sacredmusicnd/2012/11/19/the-apologetics-of-beauty/


Mr. La Rocca is a Professor of musical composition and Theory at CSUEB, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Below is a portion of a review and a beautiful video of his setting of O Magnum Mysterium:
http://www.expeditionaudio.com/frank-la-rocca-in-this-place-sacred-choral-music/

"Like fellow Americans Whitacre and Lauridsen [his music will] appeal to anyone who responds to the mystical, ecstatic sacred music of these two masters of the genre. On consideration of the works included here, La Rocca should almost certainly be considered their peer...It is hard to figure why this recognition has been so long in coming." 

"Thanks to Enharmonic records for letting us finally hear Frank La Rocca’s music; this is a lovely release, filled with superbly crafted and achingly beautiful music..."

Ronald E. Grames 
Fanfare Magazine

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April 8th, 2014Three Unexpected Films for Lentby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

K. V. Turley over at Crisis Magazine has a fantastic overview of the newly re-released film Roma, Città Aperta. Director Roberto Rossellini filmed his masterpiece in Rome a mere six months after the Nazi's withdrew from the city and the effects of the war provided the harrowing backdrop. This particular movie introduced the world to Italian neorealism when directors used the streets and everyday citizens of the Eternal City as their studio, giving the genre its renowned grittiness and realistic feel.

As a film junkie, I was pleased that Crisis would cover what is arguably one of the finest movies to highlight the struggles of faith in the face of great persecution. Read Turley's overview and then find the film on Hulu Plus or Netflix. It is worth your time.

As we are in the season of Lent, I tried to think of other great pieces of cinematic brilliance which lend themselves to contemplation and, one hopes, a touch of hope for redemption. Obviously, I could mention The Passion of the ChristJesus of Nazareth, and a host of other biblical and religious flicks. However, let's look at two more unexpected classics that will move and delight your senses while also setting your mind on the acts of Christ, who brought the world out of darkness. Because, hey, you need a good excuse to watch a fantastic film.

Nota Bene: These films are not child appropriate. I assume you'll use all your discretion and not subject your children to the existential pain of great cinema too early.

La Dolce Vita

Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) is a film that gave the world an iconic phrase that few realise is abounding in irony. Oh yes, the characters are of the Italian capital's social elite who enjoy a very fine life of wealth, celebrity, and corporeal pleasures up and down the posh Via Veneto. The imagery is so iconic I had trouble envisioning Rome without the black ties and sunglasses. It is only when one watches the film with an attentive eye that they see the irony of calling this The Sweet Life.

Marcello is the journalist who covers much of these debaucherous affairs for a sensationalist newspaper, often seen with his paparazzi while he cavorts with and charms the wealthy and glitterati of Rome. During the course of seven nights the depravity unfolds as if the deadly sins were each taking a claim to Rome's famous hills.

While it may look attractive, due to the brilliant cinematography and the lushness of Rome's physical beauty, Marcello's life is revealed to be an allegorical tale of a man without a center who is aimless in his ambitions. He has little belief in anything outside of his ever changing passions and thus even his high life is unattractive to him and, eventually, to the audience.

This is a fine movie to reflect on how our ambitions and desire for wealth will bring us little happiness if we don't ground them in something. The beauty of Rome and its art and architecture is often confronted with the monstrous, the lame, and the downtrodden; a human drama visually acted out like an old street pantomime.

Fellini was aware of religious symbolism, but was not a practicing Catholic and even had an anti-clerical streak in his imagination. Keep an eye out for what some have interpreted to be anti-Catholicism.

 

Ran

Akira Kurosawa is the master of the Samurai films and has inspired just about every action and epic movie trope that we see today. However, his eye for rich visual settings and powerful human tales have given humanity a rich treasure of cinematic art.

Kurosawa was 75 when he directed Ran, a fact that is hard to ignore in light of the fact that the film's source and inspiration is none other than Shakespeare's King Lear. Lear is that figure of the "foolish old man" who is powerful and wise in the ways of the world but quite ignorant of the wickedness of those around him. Like Lear, Ran tells the tale of of a powerful war lord, Hidetora, who abdicates his throne to divide his kingdom among his children but still hopes to keep the trappings of kingly power.

No doubt, you fine readers know what will occur. The whole of the kingdom descends into absolute chaos and Hidetora is finally reduced to desperation and reduced to absolute desperation and madness; even a desire to take his own life by ritual seppuku—a last act to save his fleeting honour that is still denied. Through the use of colours and a fog of gun smoke, we see all order disappear into a nihilistic world where even the faintest glimmer of hope is smashed against the rocks.

This film is not at all shot with a Christian perspective in mind, but rather has a nihilistic view of the world after the horrors of the last century. I had read that Kurosawa had made this as a reflection of the "death of god." Like King Lear, where so much of the drama is centered around the word "Nothing", the action of the film is tending towards an apocalypse where little light remains.

Despite all that, Ran is a great image of what happens in a world without hope. The apocalypse witnessed by St. John speaks of hope for God's children, but if one is lacking in such hope then surely the end is going to rip apart our previous foundations. In the end, all the power and wealth of a kingdom were undone by a single act of poor judgement. As we draw close to the end Lent, I think this film shows the desperation all were in before the Resurrection of Christ. I would not call this movie a good one to base your life on, but rather the characters serve as a warning for what awaits those who put their trust in the treasures of this life.

With that, may your Lent be a contemplative one in every little thing you do.

nota bene: The image is courtesy of Myrabella via Wikimedia Commons 

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April 5th, 2014Another Lenten Meditationby Dena Hunt

I’m beginning to understand something that has to do with the recurring one-versus-many conflicts I’ve encountered in recent years, with the enforced submersion into collective groupthinks which now replace race, gender, national origin (re-named “ethnic identity” due to collectivization along lines other than nationality), and religion, and we must now add one’s preferences in sexual activities as an “identity”; i.e., do you prefer multiple (simultaneous or serial) partners, single partners of the same sex, opposite sex, partners who are children—and that just refers to partner-preference, not to type of activity. At the same time that all types of imaginable activity become identity-markers, the high-speed drive to eradicate all other identifying lines into one great big androgynous Humanism religion can make us downright dizzy in its vortex. It has become impossible to read or to watch or to listen to the news. Everything is reported along groupthink party lines.

 To make matters worse, this cyclonic urge toward eradication of individuality, which wears the disguise of “tolerance” has invaded the Church. I’m told now that love of neighbor is love of God. I’ve been told that “God” is “community.” Read this and other high-sounding pronouncements according to the meaning as it’s actually played out: Love is God. And there is no God except community = We are God.

The speed at which we move toward John Lennon’s imagined paradise is, as I said, dizzying. The tolerance police are hard put to keep pace and have to play constant catch-up: Paula Deen made a racist joke thirty years ago; she is utterly destroyed. The CEO of Mozilla donated $1,000 six years ago to a campaign in California to ban legalization of same-sex marriage. He’s been forced to resign. The mayor of New York tells the country that if they disapprove of same-sex marriage, they’re not welcome in that state. Stay out. Likewise, the mayor of Chicago. If you are identified as “conservative,” you will be investigated by the IRS. And on and on; social media are weapons to be used against deviant thought, while the actual expression of any differing opinion is “hate speech,” a crime punishable by law. Freedom of speech is irrelevant when freedom of thought is prohibited. Freedom of religion is irrelevant when freedom to practice one’s faith is illegal.

Somehow, we all knew this was coming. We all knew it would invade the Church, too. Philosophy became pop-psych; art became pop-culture; love became pop-sentimentality; virtue became pop-righteousness. The tide of Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” rises and consumes everything in its path with a cry of “Ah, love, let us be true to one another!” and so we drown in a tidal wave where “ignorant armies clash by night.”

I think it’s time to disengage, to withdraw. It’s time to separate, detach, and to untangle the second commandment from the first, for there can be no we at all—unless there is first I Am. There is no love apart from its source—which isn’t us. 

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April 5th, 2014An Evening with Walker Percyby Joseph Pearce

As I write, it's 6:05 on Saturday morning. In a few minutes I depart for Manchester/Boston regional airport. I'm heading home to South Carolina after eight days in New Hampshire at Thomas More College.

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of introducing my good friend, Fr. Michael Kerper, parish priest of St. Patrick's in Nashua, as he led an afternoon seminar and then gave an evening lecture on the great American literary convert, Walker Percy.

Prior to yesterday's events I had a very scanty knowledge of Percy. I had read Lancelot several years ago and had finished Love in the Ruins recently. The only of Percy's essays that I had read was his wonderfully succinct appreciation of Kentucky bourbon, the reading of which warmed my Chestertonian heart!

Under Fr. Kerper's guidance I came to understand that Percy's literary approach was influenced not only by his Catholicism and by his reading of Aquinas and Maritain, but also by Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel, psychoanalysis, his medical and scientific training, and by personal tragedies, such as the suicide of his father.

Fr. Kerper has increased my appreciation of Walker Percy and my appetite for more of Percy's novels. Perhaps, one day, alongside Chesterton and Belloc in the Inn at the World's End, I might also get to meet this southern gentleman. Then, perhaps, and by the grace of God, we might come to realize that even the finest bourbon is  but a dim foreshadowing of the good things that the Good Innkeeper has in store.   

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April 3rd, 2014Surprised by Father Brownby Joseph Pearce

This week I am in New Hampshire, teaching Wuthering Heights as part of the tutorial on British Romanticism that I'm offering to juniors and seniors at Thomas More College.

It's been an exciting and lively week.

Last Saturday I was one of four speakers at a Catholic Literature Conference in Concord. Fr. Michael Kerper gave an excellent talk on Walker Percy, Mitchell Kalpagian spoke on Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Thomas Howard waxed lyrical on the poetry of C. S. Lewis. I rounded things off with a talk on the Catholicism of The Lord of the Rings.

It was a real joy to meet my old friend, Thomas Howard, who I hadn't seen since both of us were speaking at the Chesterton Conference in Rochester, New York, probably about five years ago. It was also good to spend time with Fr. Kerper and Dr. Kalpakgian, both of whom I've got to know very well since I began my regular visits to New Hampshire.

Last night I gave a talk at a fundraising dinner for Holy Family Academy in Manchester, speaking on my conversion. It was a privilege to become acquainted with the wonderful people associated with this exciting and vibrant school.

The most pleasant surprise this week, however, had nothing to do with my teaching or speaking engagements, but with a chance encounter with Chesterton's Father Brown on television.

I arrived back at the apartment at which I am staying on Tuesday evening, having walked the four miles from campus in the fading light of a beautiful but brisk spring day, and switched on the TV, expecting the worst.

Imagine my surprise to discover that an episode of the new BBC series of Father Brown was just starting. I had heard of this new series but had not seen any of the episodes.

I was still expecting the worst, bracing myself for a crass modern treatment of Chesterton's classic detective stories. Would Fr. Brown be cast as an unlovable and reactionary cleric? Worse, would he have metamorphosed into a banal and heretical modernist to conform with modern secular sensibilities? Would we have the usual meretriciousness on the part of female characters, coupled with gratuitously crass sex scenes?

Convinced that I would hate what I was about to see, I braced myself for the worst.

The opening scene seemed to suggest that my worst expectations would come to bitter frution. As the opening credits ended, an attractive young lady clawed seductively at a young man at the door of the church, evidently as they were leaving Mass, hinting none too subtly that she was ripe for the plucking. The incongruity of such a scenario beggared belief.

What followed also beggarded belief but in a pleasantly surprising way. After the unpromising start, things got better and better.

Father Brown was clearly a genuine believer, orthodox in doctrine, and eminently likeable. Furthermore, and to my delighted astonishment, the plot turned on the discovery of a secret priest's hole and the unearthing of a martyred priest, the skeletal corpse of whom was still clutching a rosary.

Then, just as I thought that things could not get any better, the cynically skeptical police detective finds himself in Father Brown's church in a desperate situation, his grudging love for the priest prompting him to pray, for the first time in his life, seeking a sign that would help him discover the priest's whereabouts. The sign is duly given and the priest and the detective are reunited.

Then, as the final coup de grace, the girl who had affronted my sensibilities in the opening scene comes to her senses and ends relatively virtuously.

What an unexpected joy it was to find myself watching televison and being so astonishingly surprised by Father Brown! For one night at least, the BBC had become an acronym for Bravo! Bravissimo! Chesterton!

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April 2nd, 2014Elements of Evil and the Science of Sinby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



On Monday, the Grunky Book Club discussed Shakespeare's Macbeth.  Macbeth is a play that illustrates the effect of sin on the human soul.

I led the discussion of Macbeth not because I'm an expert on Shakespeare, but because I'm an expert on sin.  It's one of the benefits of being a lifelong sinner!  In fact, as an official M.S. (Master of Sin), I can speak with some authority on this subject.

What we find in Macbeth, and what we find when we sin, can be organized into a kind of Science of Sin, whereby the Elements of Evil can be identified.

So what are the Elements of Evil that compose acts of sin?  In both dramatic literature and in life, we see the following ...

  • Though evil itself is the privation of good, evil beings - persons who devote themselves to evil - are objective.  In Macbeth, the witches are real.  They are not mere figments of Macbeth's imagination.  
  • Evil exists as a parasite upon the good.  "I can't make anything," Lucifer complains to God in Arthur Miller's play The Creation of the World and Other Business.  "But you're such an excellent critic!" God replies.
  • Evil is quite powerful, but it is limited in its effects.  In Macbeth, the witches can torment a sailor by tossing his ship with ill winds, but they are unable to destroy the bark upon which he rides - they can disturb him, but they can neither kill him nor damn him.  As with Macbeth, he must assent to his own damnation by taking the bait or the temptation that they offer.  Without that, they can do nothing of lasting consequence.
  • When we sin, we seek to step out of the natural order.  In Macbeth this is shown as a Rupture of Time, a break in the healthy and salubrious flow of things.  Which leads to ... 
  • Sterility.  Sin is empty, impotent, vacuous.  Macbeth and his Lady, for all their horrible efforts, have no heirs.
  • Sin seeks to be hidden.  This is a big one.  It is a huge red flag for the inner life.  If you seek to do something that you must hide from others, if the revelation of your deed would bring shame and embarrassment, then you are being tempted to sin.  Thus ... 
  • Good builds communities, evil isolates.  "I am not well with being over-solitary," Dr. Faustus, the man who sells his soul to Satan, complains in Marlowe's drama.
  • Sin must put up a false front.  It is devoted to the Lie and to the Father of Lies.  As Lady Macbeth puts it, "To beguile the time,
    Look like the time. Bear welcome in your eye,
    Your hand, your tongue. Look like th' innocent flower,
    But be the serpent under ’t."
  • Sin equivocates.  It is a tease.  Satan lures us with grand promises that deliver only death.  When we sin we "sow the wind and inherit the whirlwind". (Hos. 8:7)  In Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, the sinner is promised great things in return for his immortal soul.  What he gets is the ability to perform parlor tricks and an opportunity to become invisible and bop the Pope on the head.  Sin never delivers the paradise it promises.
  • Sin dehumanizes.  Macbeth is promised that by daring to sin he will be showing his manliness.  But he becomes less and less of a man as the consequences of his sins unfold.
  • The effects of evil spread like ripples in a pond.  Sin metastasizes.  Not only the commonwealth, but nature itself and the natural order are damaged by our sin - in Macbeth even the king's horses eat each other when the evil breaks out; in Genesis all creation falls along with man.
  • Since evil is empty, sin cannot satisfy.  Just the opposite: Macbeth seeks "security" in his sins.  "To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus ... " and this consumes him and drives him and his Lady to more and more horrendous deeds. Indeed, the greatest danger to our souls is not so much our proclivity to sin, but our insatiable desire to establish ourselves in sin, to glue together the house of cards we build upon the liquid foundation of shifting sand (cf. Mat. 7:25).
  • As with certain drugs, we build up tolerance to sin.  The sort of things people watch on television these days would have been unthinkable a generation ago.  Macbeth commits acts that are more and more horrible, feeling less and less compunction with each deed of death, until he finally laments, "Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts / Cannot once start me."
  • Sin gives us no rest.  Sleeplessness haunts Lord and Lady Macbeth, and a troubled conscience torments the heart of every sinner.  We incessantly seek to justify our sins to ourselves and to one another, demanding even applause from others in the form of things like "gay marriage" - but even then, even if we can bully the world into cheering our perverse and wicked deeds, we will find ourselves awake nights, unable to rest in the peace that comes only with proper order.
  • "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23), and really a fate worse than death.  For the real fruit of sin is the nihilism and sad hopelessness in which, at the end, Macbeth finds himself ("Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow ...").  With death at least comes peace and sleep; with sin comes the tormented insomnia and despair of hell itself.

For more insights into Macbeth and sin, read this excellent essay by Ken Colston at the Christian Shakespeare, and watch for The Grunky Book Club, which will premiere on our online video network Grunky some time this spring.



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April 2nd, 2014Healing a Lame Parishby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



This remarkable article by Will Seath at Fare Foreward is truly inspiring.  It's about how the "Benedict Option" - also known as "Intentional Communities" - also known as our Faith - is lived out. 

It's about how our culture is being reformed.

The story begins with Chris Currie, who grew up in a Detroit neighborhood where parish life was what parish life should be.

"Everybody in the neighborhood was Catholic, and everybody walked to church. There was still a sense of people living together, not sequestered in their own homes.”


... but ...

When Currie was ten, his family moved to the distant Farmington Hills suburb. The nearest parish was a spartan church six miles away that Currie now describes as “a sacramental dispensary.” 


Most of us, dear readers, frequent parishes that are mere "sacramental dispensaries", which is a contradiction in terms, for a truly sacramental life is Incarnational - God among men, as opposed to "drive-thru" Catholicism, or "Jesus-to-Go".

Our faith is meant to be lived - and lived in a community that creates a living culture - but how do we live it in the midst of an anti-culture that is more and more anti-christian?

Currie and his community have the answer.  Their transformation of Hyattsville, Maryland is detailed in the article, but one of the cornerstones has been the transformation of the Parish school.

Michael Hanby, who spearheaded the transformation of the quasi-secular school into a truly Catholic school, explains ...

"We were convinced that you can’t educate as if God doesn’t exist—or as if the Church weren’t integral to the meaning of humanity and the West—without falsifying history and cultivating illiteracy. We knew we wanted to make our children heirs to the great tradition of Christian humanism.”


This is the mandate of other solidly Catholic schools across the country, including Chesterton Academy in Minnesota.   In Maryland, the transformation of the school and the neighborhood brought about a transformation of the parish, which is detailed in the article.

***

The importance of a solidly Catholic parish community for the support of Catholics and for the evangelization of the culture at large cannot be overlooked.  No less a writer than J. R. R. Tolkien wrote about this many years ago.

In Tolkien's short story Leaf by Niggle, a creative transformation is wrought by the combined efforts of Niggle the artist and Parish his neighbor.  Parish is lame and narrow-minded, like most of the parishes around us.  But through a combination of the artistic vision of Niggle and the neighborly love the two men have for one another - in other words, through the unlikely marriage of the visionary with the ordinary - of extraordinary creativity and ordinary daily life - a bit of the Kingdom of God is brought to bear, and Niggle's Parish becomes a kind of prelude to heaven.

As Chris Currie says ...

I think it was probably a lot like that in ancient Rome, even when Christianity was overtly persecuted. Folks looked at their Christian neighbors and said, ‘This is attractive.’ And honestly, unless we form these communities, how are we going to evangelize society? It’s not going to be based on intellectual propositions abhorrent to most Americans today. They’ve got to experience people living a Catholic faith in their everyday life. Where better to do that than an urban community developed around the common life?




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April 1st, 2014A Recent Visit to Asbury Universityby Joseph Pearce

During a recent visit to Asbury University in Kentucky to do some filming for a documentary on Francis Thompson, I was interviewed for the student journal. I'm posting the article here, with a disclaimer with respect to some of its errors.

 

http://theasburycollegian.com/celebrated-catholic-biographer-joseph-pearce-visits-asbury/

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April 1st, 2014A Recent Visit to Asbury Universityby Joseph Pearce

During a recent visit to Asbury University in Kentucky to do some filming for a documentary on Francis Thompson, I was interviewed for the student journal. I'm posting the article here, with a disclaimer with respect to some of its errors.

 

http://theasburycollegian.com/celebrated-catholic-biographer-joseph-pearce-visits-asbury/

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March 30th, 2014Nailing Themselves to Their Own Crossesby Joseph Pearce

My latest weekly article for the Imaginative Conservative is "a Lenten illumination" on hedonism's self-crucifixion: 

 

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/03/nailing-crosses-lenten-illumination-hatred-of-the-cross.html

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March 29th, 2014The Bitter Root of the Problemby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The plant wormwood.


A few days ago I talked about Fr. Longenecker's reflections on Radical Christianity.

The word radical, as I pointed out there, means "of the root", or addressing things at the most fundamental level, the level of origins, the place from which all things spring forth.

We see this in Scripture in the Book of Acts.  When Simon Magus tries to buy from Peter and John the seemingly magical power of the laying on of hands, Peter sternly rebukes him.

Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!  You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.  Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.  For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (Acts 8:20-23)


Note the phrases your heart is not right before God and having such a thought in your heart.  The Greek word for the latter, ἐπίνοια (epinoia), deals with "intent": epi - upon  is combined with nous - mind / soul / heart: in other words epi-noia = "builds upon the heart", or as Strong's says, epinoia means "what is on the mind and where this leads to".  Peter, therefore, is addressing the root of the problem.

He is, in effect, saying to Simon, "Your intention is wrong.  There is a root in you from which your actions spring, a bitter root that makes you full of the gall of bitterness and captive to sin.  Uproot this at once."

This allusion to a root of bitterness is found also in Deuteronomy.

Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. (Deut. 29:18)


... and echoed in Hebrews.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Heb. 12:15)


The problem, you see, is not just what we do, but who we are.

Christ changes us at the deepest level, the level of our being, at our root.  And this is, quite literally, radical!

***

But we resist this change, for we are all more like Simon the Magician than Peter the Apostle.

Simon Magus is a big shot.  Through a combination of magic tricks, demonic powers and weird but seductive philosophy, he becomes a kind of god in the eyes of his audiences.  In Samaria, and even more so when he hits the road later in his career, he's Big Man on Campus in a really Big Way.  He's a hit.  He's a star.  And as we actors know, that kind of fame and the adoration it brings is very seductive, very tempting - we all secretly really want that!   And yet the Magic Man has a conversion - of sorts.  He goes so far as to be baptized, and he seems enthralled at this Christian thing and at the men who are proclaiming it.  He follow them about and laps it all up.

But he does not allow God's grace to change him at the root.  When the Holy Spirit comes to people by means of Peter's and John's prayers and the laying on of their hands, Simon says, "I want to get me some of that!  Hell, I'm willing to pay for it!"  At root, his heart is still set on power.  He lusts after status, adoration and the material things of this world.

His baptism, then, is not allowed to take root.  

Interestingly, here in Acts and elsewhere, we see that the Apostles recognize a kind of incomplete baptism that is not Trinitarian and that does not convey the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is, in a way, the beginning of the distinction between Baptism and Confirmation in the Western Church.  Indeed, it implicitly recognizes the threefold nature of conversion, which Joseph Pearce points out is evident in the Angelus prayer.

1. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary - This is the is the gratuitous gift of God, who takes the initiative to change us; He creates in us a longing for Him and He appears to fulfill that longing and to complete our creation.
2. Be it done unto me according to thy word - Mary (who stands for all believers) accepts this gift and submits to the mortification or little death it brings her (compare Baptism, which is a participation in the death of Christ - Rom. 6:4): she allows the New Root to be planted in her: she allows herself to be grafted onto the vine of Christ (see John 15:5, and in a different sense Rom. 11:16-21), and thereby ... 
3. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.   Her role as the New Eve (mother of all living) is sealed, and Almighty God deigns to bears fruit (indeed, becoming flesh incarnate) through His humble mediatrix.  


And as in Mary, so in all of us.   1.) God freely offers, 2.) we submit by dying to self and living to Him, and 3.) He then is present in us and through us.

But how do we pull off that tricky little middle part?  How do we indeed mortify our sinfulness, so that "having been buried with Him in baptism," we can also be "raised with Him through faith"?  (Col. 2:12)

That's what Lent - and the entire Christian journey - is about.

Uprooting the root of bitterness (and thereby its bitter fruit), and letting the living root of Christ infuse us with new sap that will bear good fruit.

If a root is holy, the branches will be holy too. (Rom. 11:16)
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  (John 15:5


Let us, this Lent, cooperate with the Gardener in the work of uprooting the source of bitterness and gall in all of us.


 

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March 27th, 2014The Cross and the Metronomeby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org


One of my tutoring students wanted to learn how to play piano.  He was musically gifted, and this was a sincere desire of his.


Since my tutoring students are home schooled, I can, to a large extent, set the curriculum to match the interests of the student.  So I bought and paid for a "do it yourself" piano class from the University of Nebraska Online High School.  It came with a book and a metronome.

My student lasted a week in this do-it-yourself class and then quit.  What do you think the problem was?

The problem was the metronome.  

One of the reasons I was tutoring this kid was he refused to go to his physical school on time, if at all, and his wealthy parents were too distracted with becoming wealthier to make him get out of bed and get there.  It was, therefore, no surprise to me that he was difficult to motivate at home, too.

So I was looking for any hook - any interest that would spur him to get out of bed on time and give himself to his studies with something resembling gusto.  Or even mild interest.

But this never really happened.  As Erich Fromm says of today's young people ...

Many of the younger generation tend to have no character at all. ... What I mean is that they live, emotionally and intellectually speaking, from hand to mouth. They satisfy every need immediately, have little patience to learn, cannot easily endure frustration, and have no center within themselves, no sense of identity. 


The metronome, you see, was forcing my student to play in time.  It was discipline - almost discipline personified.  He just wanted to sit down and play.  He had no patience for the hard work and self-sacrifice learning an instrument takes.  Anyone who's ever struggled to learn an instrument, or a language, or any skill at all, knows this feeling quite well.  You want so badly to play, to have the skill to enjoy what you're doing and to let it fly - but you can't do that without a lot of hard work - sometimes years of hard work.  One of the most true statements of the secular world is no pain, no gain.

And what is this pain, what is the pain of discipline, but a form of suffering?

The Book of Wisdom tells us ...

The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction, and concern for instruction is love of her, and love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality, and immortality brings one near to God; so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.  (Wis. 6:17-20)


Yes, desire leads to a Kingdom.  Or, as Jesus said, "Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Mat. 7:7).  But the path of desire leads through discipline.  In other words, the path to the Kingdom is the Way of the Cross.

The author of the inspired Book of Wisdom, who tells us he is the wise King Solomon, lays it out for us in the passage I quoted above.

1. To attain Wisdom (which in Jewish wisdom literature and in Christian tradition is really a form of union with God) - to attain Wisdom, you must first sincerely desire "instruction" - to be taught.  The path to Lady Wisdom begins not only with the desire for her, but with a humble attitude.  You can't be taught if you're a know-it-all; you must submit to something greater than yourself in order to learn.  One must desire not only the Lady, but also the humble way that you must tread to get to this Lady. One must not only have a desire to play the piano, but a willingness to submit to the demands of the metronome in doing so - even through the times when you feel like picking the damn thing up and throwing it against the wall. (Click-click-click-smash!)
2. "Concern for instruction is love of her" - which is conscientiousness.  And conscientiousness in submitting to the discipline of instruction is an expression of love.  Indeed, it is an expression of something I've been talking a lot about lately - mature love.   One of the things spoiled teens (and adults) have to learn is how love comes with a price: no pain, no gain.  You can't skip school and sleep til noon and expect Wisdom to come to you.  We are loving a Lady, the object of our quest, and to find her requires suffering and submission to suffering.  It requires discipline and adventure.  Our mother may give us the teat as we lay there passively; she might even pick us up and burp us.  But Lady Wisdom requires the end of an infantile attitude on our part.  She demands a quest, a search, an ordeal.  She requires love expressed as endurance.  And even something as simple as "concern for instruction" is love of her.
3. "Love is the keeping of her laws."  We moderns do not want to hear this!  But see Ps. 119.
4. Now it gets interesting.  "Giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality".  And this from the Old Testament!  The gift of Lady Wisdom (who personifies union with God) is eternal life!
 5. "and immortality brings one near to God; so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom."


Seek and ye shall find, in other words, but God never promises us a rose garden.  On the contrary ...

All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3:12)


And believe it or not this post is in many ways about the errors of Christopher West and the spiritualization of lust.  West is right when he says that Desire is good and should not be quenched automatically, for Desire leads to God.

But Eros leads to God through the discipline and suffering of Marriage, family life, dirty diapers and sleepless nights with a sick child.  The true fulfillment of our sexual desire is anything but sexy.

And the metronome - like the Cross - is anything but fun.



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March 25th, 2014We’re All Eunuchs for Mammonby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Homo Consumens - consuming man, man who exists entirely to fuel the economy and whose ultimate end and purpose in life in shopping - is more "homo" than consumens.


A hundred years ago G. K. Chesterton was busy pointing out that eugenics and contraception were tools of our capitalist masters, intended to create more malleable and affordable employees, as the most useful workers were young, childless and therefore cheaper.  Killing the old and keeping the young from raising more young (and demanding more raises) was therefore sound policy, at least from the point of view of the bottom line.

Today Patrick J. Deneen points out not only why corporations like Anheuser Busch have been sponsoring "Gay Pride" parades for a few decades now, but also why the bizarre affiliation of the Left and Corporations has sprung up to support "gay marriage".  We know why the Left likes "gay marriage", but why would capitalists support it?  Aren't capitalists usually Republicans and don't Republicans usually resist "gay marriage"?  Deneen answers (my emphasis) ...

Corporations ... defend gay marriage for the same reason (and using the same tactics) they seek to undermine unions, environmental regulations, and tax policy—most obviously short-term gain, but more deeply, a society that needs to be remade in such a way that short-term gain seems the only game left in town: a thoroughly mobile society devoted to personal satisfaction, composed of individuals whose relationships are fungible and who have no strong relationship to place, history, or the generations stretching between the past and the future.


He's describing the "metrosexual", the Man with the Hollow Chest, who feels no passion for his children, for he doesn't have any children; who feels no passion for his wife, for he has no wife; who feels no passion  for his lovers, for his genital gymnastics have nothing to do with "love".  These New Eunuchs are the perfect citizens of the monolith that is the Corporate State.  Their narcissistic needs are met with things they can buy, and as long as they're kept relatively affluent and distracted, they'll put up with anything their masters command of them - though the command is couched in the form of a "pitch" that they "buy".  These engineered humanoids will be the last sorts of souls to stage a revolt.

Deneen sums it up ...

... you are an individual, a consumer, and there should be no limitation on your pursuit of personal satisfaction, including obstacles in nature (biological or environmental) or morality (norms regarding sex or discouragements to greed). The ecology for both modern economics and modern marriage is one of untethered consumptive individualism. 



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March 25th, 2014The Enduring Legacy of T. S. Eliotby Joseph Pearce

Here's an excellent essay on a superb poet by a wonderful academic. The poet is T. S. Eliot and the academic is Clinton Brand, professor of literature at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, with whom I've worked on the Ignatius Critical Editions.

http://www.intercollegiatereview.com/index.php/2014/03/05/the-voice-of-this-calling-the-enduring-legacy-of-t-s-eliot/

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March 25th, 2014A Remarkable Displayby Pavel Chichikov

I recently came across a remarkable display of old photographs on the Daily Telegraph web site. Coincidentally, this was the day after I’d received a new issue of the Saint Austin Review, the theme of which is World War One.

The photographs are here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/10719406/Former-dustmans-salvaged-WW1-archive.html?frame=2861436

A dustman – someone we call a trash collector in the US – has found over the years discarded photographs of the men of the First World War. They are rare, sometimes intimate and sometimes posed – but always “right there”, not dated but contemporary, extraordinarily real.

This is how it looks, and almost feels, to get up after a sleep in a trench, and then light the morning’s first pipe.

It makes one think: Suppose photography had been invented in 1806 instead of thirty years later. Could we be looking at the British troops at Waterloo getting up one morning to fight Napoleon’s Imperial Guard?

My grandmother told me that her great-grandmother had described seeing, as a small child, Napoleon’s forces marching into Poland. What if someone in the crowd had been able to snap a photo with a primitive camera?

What can strike us if we think about it is how the people of generations past must have looked and behaved exactly the way we do. Julius Caesar may have resembled your Uncle Frank, and Henry the Fifth your Uncle Bill, and they may have yawned and smiled and blown their noses the same way. The haircuts may have differed, and the clothing, but that’s about all.

Someday, God willing, people may look at pictures of us and say: Imagine, they’re just like we are! Or let’s hope they can, in the ways that are most important to our human identity.


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March 25th, 2014A Lenten Meditationby Dena Hunt

There is in Catholicism a doctrine, tradition, a “teaching.”  God sends us suffering, crosses. We each have our cross, and we are not only to accept our cross, but to embrace it. By the standards of modern psychology, or even by the standards of reason, that’s a very unhealthy attitude. By those standards, we should rail against suffering, overcome it, conquer it. If there’s a problem—solve it. If there’s pain or disease, or deprivation, find a remedy—cure it. It’s when we can’t solve it, cure it, overcome it, that modern psychology counsels us to find a way to accept it and make peace with it somehow, usually by looking at the other parts of our lives and finding some respite or fulfillment there. Vagueness here is necessary, for our crosses are as individual, as customized as DNA.

But that elsewhere-maneuver is not enough for a Christian. We must also forgive. We have our example of suffering and the right response to it in Christ. “Father, forgive them….” We know what we have to do, and it’s not so easy as psychology’s recommendation. And, in some cases, the suffering is enduring. It lasts a long time, a lifetime. It’s not just one incident, one time, one act of violence or hurt, but something that happens over and over and over and over, and over…. This, too, must be accepted and embraced over and over…. Sometimes we are amazed that this or that still has the power to hurt us.  How can that be, we wonder, how can that still have the power to hurt me? But it does. Not only that, but the pain is just as great now as it was twenty years ago, fifty years ago, however long ago it began. 

We don’t get to a “place” where it no longer hurts; we don’t get to a point where we no longer care, where we no longer feel the pain. If we were able to do that, we’d be damaged beyond the recall of love and salvation. And so, to save us from that fatal condition, God sends us a new cross. And then we find that it’s the old one, the same one we rejected by cultivating an immunity or indifference, a numbing apathy induced by behavior, chemistry, or whatever means we find. 

And so, ultimately, we must surrender to it, not flee from it. We must bow “under the weight of the wood,” and know, fully and well, that the only response to suffering that’s ever really been possible is to suffer it. Only when we do that—and we can only do that after all our efforts to escape have failed—can we begin to embrace it as we’ve always known we should, as we’ve always known in the darkest recesses of our hearts that we must.

Lent is a time to give up chocolate, to make extra donations to charity, to go to daily Mass or spend time reading the Bible. These are little rehearsals, a childlike game of pretend, just as we “play house” as children to prepare us for grown-up marriage. The Church gives us these little practices when we’re children to prepare us for the grown-up business of real surrender, real self-giving, and real love. 

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March 24th, 2014Defending Pius XIIby Joseph Pearce

Here's Gary Krupp's excellent defence of the great pope, Pius XII, in a recent interview with Raymond Arroyo:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8FcibiK48sk

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March 24th, 2014Tea with Chesterton and Henry Jamesby Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative grapples with notions of America from a European perspective. It culminates with an amusing tea party in which a chat between Chesterton and Henry James is gatecrashed by Belloc bellowing for bacon and beer. Read on:


http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/03/america-european-perspective.html

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March 24th, 2014The Hound of Heaven Revisitedby Joseph Pearce

In early January I traveled to England with a film crew to film a documentary on the life and legacy of Francis Thompson. The documentary is part of a multimedia project by Emblem Media to present Thompson's classic poem, "The Hound of Heaven", in various forms. The first of these to be released is "The Hound of Heaven: A Modern Adaptation", an animated and dramatic presentation of a modern interpretation of the poem. Inspired by one of the masterpieces of English poetry, it is a significant work of art in its own right. Here's the link:


http://vimeo.com/89705938

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March 24th, 2014The Church Tells Us What the World Won’t: Eros is Deadlyby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Thomas Mann-I'm-Bored

Thomas Mann's Death in Venice is about a guy who's got a problem.

He's got a thing for little boys.

And slowly but surely his perversion ruins him - eats away at him from the inside like a cancer.  It's one of those intellectual novels of despair and effete ennui, but it tells the truth of concupiscence in a way that it probably doesn't intend to and in a way that's hard to forget.  It's almost a fictional version of the story of Oscar Wilde - who learns, like the protagonist of Mann's tale, that our Eros is not always to be trusted - our desires are not to be deified.

But why is this?

Why can we not simply do what Joseph Campbell told us and Follow Our Bliss?  Why can't we "do our own thing"?  Why can 't we indulge our lusts - or our perversions for that matter - and be happy?  After all, Christopher West and his followers tell us that a man who knocks at the door of a brothel is really seeking God.  Yes, he's seeking God by way of grave sin and abuse of another human being, but it's all good, isn't it?  If the Song of Songs is the Centerfold of the Bible, then isn't the Passion of Our Savior akin to the passion of the bedroom?  If St. John has an ecstasy on Patmos, then may I not have my own ecstasy on a mattress?  West sees sexual imagery even in the Baptism of Our Lord, even at the Easter Vigil, even in icons of the Virgin.  St. Paul warns us of men whose "gods are their bellies" (Phil. 3:19).  I say the ones we should fear are those whose gods are a few inches lower than that.

For the fact is that it's a deadly danger to spiritualize sex.  We seem to have forgotten this, but Eros - which is an aspect of Love - is a mixed blessing because of our fallen human nature.  Sometimes the blessing is not so mixed; sometimes we turn it into a great curse.  But that's something you're not allowed to say any more.  Nowadays we have to Buy the Lie - the lie that Deifies Desire, that makes a God out of What We Want.  The Big Lie goes something like this ...

Is it really so bad that Mann's hero has a thing for boys on the beach in wet speedos?  Is it really so bad that this desire is self-consuming, sterile, destructive of innocence and is unnatural, as deadly as the cholera in Venice?  And poor Oscar Wilde!  All he did was abandon his wife and children, opting out of loving and protecting them because of the allure of anal penetration with another man.  Who are we to judge?!???!


***

I have had my own tussles with Eros.

Much of my life I've done exactly what Christopher West rightly warns against.  I've smothered and suffocated it.  And I mean Eros in the larger sense, not just in the narrowly sexual sense.  Eros, writ large, is upward attraction, desire for anything we love, hunger for that which satisfies (in my case, this has generally been Acting and a life in Drama).  And, yes, ultimately Eros is seeking God - both West and Campbell get that right.  Even Pope Benedict said as much.  In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est he makes it clear that love without Eros is love that is lame, a crippled love, a castrated love.  Not only selfless love (agape) leads to God, but so does love that seeks to fill our heart's desire - which is another way of saying Eros.  Agape without Eros is rote and hollow; Eros without Agape is self-consuming and fatal.  We need both and both in balance.

But how often do we get that right?  Especially since these days the Church at the diocesan and parish level is (generally speaking) absolutely no help whatsoever in addressing the central challenge of our lives - which is how to love, and love maturely (which is what St. Paul called being "mature in Christ").

For if I sometimes suffocated Eros, at other times in my life the balance was out of kilter in the other direction.  Instead of smothering Eros, I indulged it, and thinking that the Romantic writers were right, The Poet in me demanded to sing love songs - at all hours, drunk or sober, even to strumpets on the street.  And the Actor in me decided he'd work under any conditions, he loved acting so much, even for little pay and for people who took advantage of him.  For four full years I followed that path and it made me utterly and totally miserable.  Miserable like Mann's boy-lover in Venice.  Miserable like Oscar Wilde in Reading Gaol.  Miserable like a guy going through a mid-life crisis who leaves his wife for a stripper on the East Side.

If we simply Follow our Bliss we are blasted, not blissful.

Eros without Agape - a love of desire without a love of self-sacrifice - is deadly.

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March 23rd, 2014Radical Christianityby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Every now and then, Catholic sites on the internet rise above petty squabbles and inside-the-Roman-beltway gossip and, seemingly out of nowhere, prophecy pours forth.

Take, for example, an October 2012  post by Fr. Dwight Longenecker.  Fr. Dwight for some reason

shared some excerpts from this post on Facebook today, even though the original was published 18 months ago.

He writes on Fullness and Foolishness and says some profound things, including this ...

Sin is the outworking of the lack of God’s glory in our lives.  Sin is the symptom.  I am not a sinner because I sin. I sin because I’m a sinner.


This seemingly simple observation gets to the heart of the matter.  To be a Christian is not about "faith vs. works", it's not about being in an exclusive club and turning your nose up at others, it's not even about ethics or behavior.  It's about an ontological change.  It's about an old self dying and a new self coming to life - coming to everlasting life - through God's grace.  

This is why the Faith is analogous to Acting, as I've written about before.  When an actor portrays a character, he might focus on individual external aspects, such as accent, posture, costume, attitude - but these are symptoms of a person, indicia of an organic being that an actor is attempting to become.  Of course the actor does not "become" his role "ontologically" (on the level of being) - an actor merely pretends - but what an actor aims to do is to pretend well and to portray the heart of his character's soul, and from this "ontological center" (as it were) the entire characterization flows.  The closer an actor comes to the center-of-being of his character, the more things like accent, physicality, motivation and so forth - the more the externals - will take care of themselves.

Now sometimes in Faith as in acting we have to focus on the externals.  Sometimes an actor in rehearsal can't easily get to the heart of his role, to the center of his character's soul, and so he imitates from the outside in.  Sometimes an actor can discover that a distinguishing walk or a way of speaking or a gesture or some external hook that he adopts as a kind of mark or imitation turns out to be a key to understanding the wholeness of his character.  Sometimes an outside expression makes the inside come alive.

So it is in life.  Sometimes, even when we don't feel like it, doing a good deed - even reluctantly - awakens something inside of us and starts to make us into better people.  This is certainly true for prayer, which is often forced or dry, but which, if persisted in, can yield great grace, despite a lack of a subjective sense of interior motivation on the part of the one who prays.

Fr. Dwight continues ...

I want to address the problem at the root. [My note: "at the root" means "radically".  Fr. Dwight here is describe what even "mere Christianity" aims at, which is the most "radical" thing on the planet.] I want to be filled with the fullness of God at the foundation level. Then everything else will take care of itself.


In other words, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Mat. 6:33)

Fr. Dwight concludes (and here's where the prophetic tone rings out) ...

The main problem with Christianity today is that it has forgotten these astounding ambitions promised in the New Testament. Christians of all sorts–and Catholics especially–have turned Christianity into a bland exercise in trying to be nice people. We’ve turned the faith into some sort of dull middle class club that meets on Sundays to sing awful, sentimental songs before we discuss how we’re going to make the world a better place. Hasn’t anybody figured out that you don’t need religion to do all that? If that’s all religion is, then to hell with it. (h/t to Flannery) Making religion into a milquetoast milestone once a week is foolishness in the extreme. The next generation will ask quite rightly. “Why bother to go to church?” Excellent question. The world does trendy music, uplifting self help sermons and do gooder activities much better and without all the getting up early on Sunday morning stuff.
Real Christianity is about a radical transformation from the ground level up. The real thing is strong wine–not water. The real thing is the greatest adventure. The  real thing requires enormous courage and unbelievable stamina. The real thing requires a total, extreme makeover.
I wonder how many of us are really ready for that.

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March 21st, 2014Reviling Russiaby Joseph Pearce

Why are the left and right united in their hatred of Russia? Why is Putin treated as though he were the new Stalin or Hitler? What's the real issue in the Crimea? These questions, and others, are discussed in an interview I've given to the National Catholic Register:

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/the-issue-of-ukraine-and-crimea-is-complex/

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March 21st, 2014Tolkien’s Beowulfby Joseph Pearce

Exciting news just received. Tolkien's long awaited translation of Beowulf is finally being published. It will be available for purchase in May, almost ninety years after the Master of Middle-earth finished it.

Here's the link to the news story:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/19/jrr-tolkien-beowulf-translation-published

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March 20th, 2014Death of a Living Martyrby Joseph Pearce

Martyrdom normally means being put to death for the Faith. Sometimes, however, the persecution faced by Catholics throughout the whole of their lives constitutes what might be termed a living martyrdom. Such was the living martyrdom of Bishop Fan, who has recently passed away, after a life of suffering at the hands of China's communist regime. Here's his obituary:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10708949/Joseph-Fan-Zhongliang-obituary.html

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March 19th, 2014Crimes Against the Humanitiesby Joseph Pearce

What do T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, Evelyn Waugh and Hilaire Belloc have in common? Well, amongst other things, they warn us against the hollow men and the waste land of modernity. Read of their role in exposing the hollowness and waste of modernity in "Crimes Against the Humanities", my latest article for The Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/03/crimes-humanities-tragedy-of-modernity-comedy-errors.html

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March 19th, 2014Tolkien and Womenby Dena Hunt

Many years ago, at the height of my infatuation with Tolkien, I participated in a forum of discussion on things Tolkienian, but especially on the films, which had just been released.

All this sort of thing was new to me. I’d never been a “fan” of any kind before, and unaware at the time that I wasn’t really a “fan” of Tolkien as my fellow participants in the discussion could legitimately claim to be, I was surprised by remarks I perceived as profoundly superficial.

They were, for example, in complete denial of Tolkien’s Catholicism in all but the strictest biographical sense. Indeed, they found his faith something he rather “overcame” in his literary achievement, and often pondered aloud how it added to his greatness that he was able to set it aside for the sake of something so much “greater” in The Lord of the Rings. Just as the fan mentality handles Tolkien’s faith by dismissing it, his attitude toward women is “tolerated.” They excuse him as simply a product of his time. His borderline misogyny (by today’s extreme feminist standards) is, like his faith, not examined at all, since it does not enhance their cultish idolatry. It’s simply dismissed.

But Tolkien exhibited to me in the character of Eowyn an understanding of the feminine psyche unequalled by most other modern writers of fiction.

Joseph’s link in his post “Tolkien on Sex” in the International Business Times (http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=18690#.UyFtnvldVOF) includes:

“From the vantage point of the 21st century, Tolkien will appear to many to be both out of step and out of tune with the sexual mores of our times. Tolkien would no doubt take this as a sincere, if unintended, compliment. He knew he was out of step, and he steadfastly refused to update his morality in order to pass the muster of the moderns.”

The writer is a man, so is Joseph, and so is Kevin O’Brien, who wrote insightful follow-ups on this subject. But their subject is sex.

A man’s attitude toward women is an illustration, a graphic one, of his attitude toward sex. I think it was gutsy of Tolkien to say—even in a private letter to his son—that men are not monogamous by instinct. (Personally, I’d mistrust the complete veracity of any man who claimed otherwise, despite whatever romantic fantasies might lead him to believe--temporarily.) Kevin’s exploration of this subject on his own site led him to a meditation on chivalry, a notion almost forgotten nowadays, and it’s precisely here that we arrive at Tolkien’s attitude toward women.

If I described, out loud, what I perceive as quintessential femininity (as Joseph, Kevin, the IBT writer, and Tolkien himself, have all said about masculinity), I’m pretty sure feminists would want me assassinated, preferably by some very gruesome means. Actually, such a descriptive statement isn’t necessary; Tolkien does it masterfully in his character of Eowyn—who is not at all some mythical “warrior maiden” who needs-not-man. Her magnificent heroism on the battlefield can’t be taken out of the context of her character, which is far more comprehensive than that. You cannot ignore Eowyn before that scene, nor after it. You cannot ignore what drove her to it, nor what healed her afterwards. Of course, I am speaking of Tolkien’s characterization of Eowyn, not Peter Jackson’s. (The latter virtually re-wrote LOTR according to his own views. Although the film had some great technological and cinematic features, its re-writing of the trilogy should be condemned.)

Succinctly (feminists may kill me), just as masculine sexuality is physical and mobile, the feminine is psychic and stationary. There’s a reason men are drawn toward cars and women toward houses. A woman is pursued; she does not pursue. She must be chosen, wooed, and won (that’s all passive voice) before she can bloom, before she can flower and be fruitful. That makes her dependent on man. That’s the way it is. That was Eowyn’s sorrow, the cause of her tragic heroism on the battlefield, and the source of her healing afterwards. She did not suffer repression by men; she suffered rejection by a man, the only man whom she knew at the time to be worthy of her.

Tolkien understood women. Better, I think, than most women understand themselves. We don’t like the idea of helplessness. But the truth is, when it comes to our femininity at its deepest level, the place that doesn’t care what the prevailing social or political ideas are, we are all damsels in distress, awaiting the knight in shining armor who will save us from the barrenness that awaits us if he does not save us from it. If there is competition for us, we are ourselves tested: our experience with our own fathers comes into subconscious play, but so does the tutelage and example of our mothers. Fortunate is the woman who was cherished by her father, and nourished in wisdom by her mother.

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March 19th, 201425 Years - In Thanksgivingby Joseph Pearce

On this day, the Feast of St. Joseph, twenty-five years ago, I was received into the Mystical Body of Christ. Thus today I celebrate a quarter of a century as a Catholic. 

On the day itself I was rendered speechless when asked to speak at the reception which followed the Mass at which I received my First Communion. All that I could say on that occasion was that I had come home. Today, I can still not think of any adequate words to express the magnitude of the step that conversion represents nor are there words to express the magnificence of the blessings that the sacramental life has bestowed on me.

Here's how I try to express the inexpressible in Race with the Devil:

After the Mass at which I was received into the Church, and unbeknownst to me, a special reception had been organized. The ladies of the parish had baked a cake which, if my memory serves me correctly, had the words "Welcome Home Joe" emblazoned across it. I was asked to make a speech and found myself, for the first time in my life (and perhaps the last!), entirely lost for words. I had given many speeches in my time and was a master of impromptu rhetorical flourishes during my revolutionary days. But here I was, on the happiest and most important day of my life, completely and utterly tongue-tied. In truth, the sheer enormity of the occasion overwhelmed me. What could one say about something so miraculous, wondrous, salvific, terrific? There was nothing one could say, and perhaps nothing one should say. It was too large for words. And yet, put on the spot, I had to say something, however inadequate. All that I could say was that I had nothing to say - except that I had come home. 

I had come home. Those four words say it all.

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March 19th, 2014Back to Barchesterby Daniel J. Heisey

Last night I dreamt I went back to Barchester.  In the moonlight beneath the towers of the cathedral I was aware that the old bishop lay dying.  As the old man slowly sighed away, gently leaving this life just as, to use Cicero’s comparison, a ripe fruit falls from the tree, his son sought to influence the Prime Minister regarding the appointment of the next bishop.

Yet, such a decision was left in suspense as one government dissolved and the Crown formed a new one.  So, the late bishop’s son faced a future he disliked, and in sympathy I paced around the cathedral close, wondering what to make of it all, the city and its history.  Surely there was a lesson in it for us today.

From my research in the archives of the cathedral I had found that in former times there had also been awkward and unpleasant moments.  For instance, there was the case of Henry Brewster, Bishop of Barchester around 1514.  His letters reveal a man baffled by his own era, years when everything seemed topsy-turvy.

As his surname implies, his family had long been makers of beer, the name of Brewer having taken on the feminine form of Brewster when in the late 1340s the Black Death claimed another Henry, and his widow had to struggle not only to rear five children, but also to keep the business going.  Family identity thus bore the stamp of that indomitable woman.  (Yet his letters never give her Christian name.)  Oral tradition within the family kept alive the memory of bending tough times to oneself, not the other way round.

Yet Bishop Brewster had to contend with times that seemed tougher than he could ever be.  There was his new chaplain, newly ordained and back from Cambridge and full of new ideas.  For his studies in Sacred Scripture he had attended lectures by a smug little Dutchman, Erasmus of Rotterdam, who had set aside the Latin text of Saint Jerome and was using his own edition of the Greek text of the epistles of Saint Paul.  Where these foreign professors got the nerve Bishop Brewster could not imagine.  The bishop had to admit that Adages, Father Erasmus’ collection of proverbs and quotations, was a useful work of reference, but all in all, one could take things a bit too far.

It seemed hard to believe those reports that had it that Erasmus was often a house guest of no less a personage than Thomas More, a bright and devout young man so close to the new King, himself a bright and devout young man.  If so, Erasmus thus moved in a charmed circle; all the more reason for him to behave himself.  The bishop shuddered to think what sort of mischief would next come from the vain professor’s pen.

Brewster of Barchester sat at his desk and scribbled away, letter after letter.  It worried him that so few people seemed to be following Church teaching.  People said they were fed up with scandals in the clergy, scandals of priests not keeping their cassocks on, scandals of his brother bishops living more lavishly than Thomas Becket ever did as Chancellor.

People were saying that because of these scandals and others as well the Church had forfeited her moral authority.  People said that it was one thing to tell them about the mystery of the Eucharist or about the Trinity, but it was another thing entirely to tell them how to live their daily lives.  These people were denying the Church’s competence to teach what she had clearly and consistently taught for more than a thousand years.

Bishop Brewster wondered how to make them see that truth was not contingent upon fallen human nature.  One advantage clever academics like Erasmus had was a new means of communication.  He and others were now making full use of that new invention, the printing press.  The bishop marveled how much that device had changed the way people gathered information, and it had done so in his own lifetime.

For himself, he couldn’t see what was wrong with the old way, taking one’s time and copying things out by hand.  Everyone seemed to be in such a hurry these days.  After all, where would these new contraptions lead society?  And yet, every city in Christendom had several of those machines, and like bizarre stories coming again and again from across the Atlantic Ocean, they seemed here to stay.

Day after day Bishop Brewster wrote to family and friends.  Some of them, alas, were also drifting away.  So many people seemed to be thinking like those odious old heretics, the Cathars, with their contention that it was possible to be a perfectly good Christian, or merely a perfectly nice person, without giving a thought to the teachings or the hierarchy of the one Church that Christ had founded.  They said that they could decide for themselves.  They seemed not to see that each man deciding his own virtue would be as absurd as an egg declaring that each word meant only what he said it meant.  Surely things would never go that far.

Perhaps, he wrote, if the Church were to use the new medium and print books and papers stating again her timeless teachings, perhaps then people would see that the structured love of Church law and custom contain no back-breaking burdens, that they are not Pharisaical, man-made rules and regulations having nothing to do with people’s real lives.  For so people were saying, even to his face.  Among the last lines written by the bishop was in an unfinished letter:  “What if, however,” he had written, “those most in need of the truth do not to read our new books and papers?”

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


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March 18th, 2014The Rules of Engagementby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Some friends and I have been discussing the implications of Tolkien's advice to his son on sex, which I posted about yesterday here and here.  The subject of chivalry has come up.  I write ...

Once it became clear that the Second Coming would not be immediate, and that most people had to do the Martha thing and live in the world, with all the messy challenges and demands the world makes on us, then some code of Christian conduct had to be put forward for the two things that were incumbent upon every knight, and indeed upon every person - loving and fighting: for we all do both in one way or another every day.


In other words, "libido", or lust-for-life always involves loving and fighting, and there are two extremes of conduct when it comes to either.   Those two extremes are disengagement and indulgence.

Disengagement is explained by Our Lord in the Parable of the Talents, when the cowardly steward buries his lord's talent in a hole so as to avoid any chance of loss.  This is condemned, for our light is to be put on a hill, not covered with a basket.  Our Lord gives us our talents so as to engage them in life and put them at risk.  This can be done whether one leads a contemplative or an active life, and the sin of not doing so can be committed by anyone, in religious endeavors, in secular endeavors, and in sex.  Indeed, in the sexual realm, one of the worst things about contraception, masturbation and sodomy is that these activities deliberately bury or squander something in a place where we know it will do no good.  Sterile sex plays it safe, and our talent - our libido - was not meant for this.  The risk of loss and pain and the dizzying thrill of the new life and unpredictability that true engagement leads to - these things scare us.  But we are not to hoard, hold back or bury.

And yet neither are we to indulge, for indulgence is the opposite pole.  Desire can easily turn to lust and righteous anger can easily turn to wrath.  Lovers can ravish and soldiers can slaughter.

Only in the fullness of Christian culture are we taught the delicate balance between the two, and Chivalry is one way we used to be taught that, even the secular form of chivalry, which was the Christian code that boys should be courteous to girls - both because we should protect the innocent and weak and also because we love them and want to make babies with them - fighting and sex were thus managed with the leash of sacrifice and surrender that comes with the Cross.

And, believe it or not, I think Shakespeare wrote a whole play on this subject - one of his lighter comedies.

For more on how Much Ado about Nothing is really Much Ado about Something, read my article on The Christian Shakespeare here (originally published in the St. Austin Review, a magazine you should all subscribe to).

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March 17th, 2014Our Father Who Art ... Here!by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Just today I wrote Tolkien, Sex and the Central Challenge of the Church - which is about JRR Tolkien's view of the dangers of sex.  Just two days ago I wrote Our Father Who Art ... Where?, which is about the absence of fathers and fathering both in our culture and in the Church.

It strikes me that today's Tolkien piece is an exact illustration of why I wrote the Missing Father piece.

Tolkien's musings on sex and love are excerpts from advice he gave to his son.  They are brilliant examples of fathering in action.

Tolkien was doing precisely what a good father should do - he was passing along wisdom to his son, a young man about to embark on his own, who was in sore need of such wisdom (though young men typically don't think they're in sore need of anything from the "old man").

Tolkien laments, even as he writes to his son, 73 years ago, that the Church has dropped the ball on this and that Father at the parish probably won't bother to teach his spiritual children - his parishioners - what Father at home is teaching his son.  People are disappointed in marriage, Tolkien observes, because the Church does not teach the true nature of love, the dangers of sexual temptations disguised as "sympathies", and the need to work hard, to mortify one's selfish desires, and to take up one's cross daily for the sake of one's bride.  And what was true 73 years ago is doubly true today.

Dear Father in Heaven, may we have more fathers on earth like JRR Tolkien.  May we serve as fathers to one another in the Church when our clerical "fathers" neglect their call to do just that.  And may we always strive to be mature in our love, "mature in Christ", helping others to mature along with us - especially our own dear children, for whom we are given the awesome title "Father".

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March 17th, 2014Tolkien, Sex and the Central Challenge of the Churchby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Elsewhere at the Ink Desk, Josseph Pearce has linked to this article - From Father to Son: JRR Tolkien on Sex.

It's fascinating stuff.  Here's a sample (my emphasis) ...

"The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favorite subject," Tolkien insisted. "He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones." Thus, Tolkien advised his young son, then 21, that the sexual fantasies of the 20th century were demonic lies, intended to ensnare human beings. Sex was a trap, Tolkien warned, because human beings are capable of almost infinite rationalization in terms of sexual motives. Romantic love is not sufficient as a justification for sex, Tolkien understood.
Taking the point further, Tolkien warned his son that "friendship" between a young man and a young woman, supposedly free from sexual desire, would not remain untroubled by sexual attraction for long. At least one of the partners is almost certain to be inflamed with sexual passion, Tolkien advised. This is especially true among the young, for Tolkien believed that such friendships might be possible later in life, "when sex cools down."
As any reader of Tolkien's works understands, Tolkien was a romantic at heart. He celebrated the fact that "in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition [is] still strong," though he recognized that "the times are inimical to it." Even so, as a concerned father, Tolkien warned Michael to avoid allowing his romantic instinct to lead him astray, fooled by "the flattery of sympathy nicely seasoned with a titillation of sex."


And I think this is even more of an issue now than when Tolkien was alive, especially with the New Technology.  As I recently wrote ...

Only within the past decade or so have people been able to communicate instantaneously and at any time, without regard to geographic distance or any of the natural things that used to put restraints on us.  For instance, throughout all of Christian history, if a married man started to spend too much time alone with a single woman, everyone in town would talk and the parish priest would privately admonish both of them.  Nowadays they can bare their souls to one another via email, and no one is the wiser - and even if they don't bare their bodies via Skype or sexting, they may have crossed a line without completely realizing what they were doing.  I've known people who have fallen into this habit almost unawares.  


... in other words "human beings are capable of almost infinite rationalization in terms of sexual motives" - especially when they have a technology and a culture that enables and facilitates our fallen natures.

Indeed the problem is our fallen natures, for whether we use the old technology or the new, the problem is in our hearts.  As the article quotes Tolkien (again, my emphasis): "The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been 'going to the bad' all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its special dangers: but the 'hard spirit of concupiscence' has walked down every street, and sat leering in every house, since Adam fell".

We live in an age where we really think we that sex is not dangerous - or if it is, it's dangerous for them and not for us.  Joseph Pearce is also a fan of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who famously said ...

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?


But the problem of sex is even more complex than that.  For even in our own hearts, mortification alone (destroying a piece of our own hearts) is only part of the answer.  For if we utterly destroy Eros, we destroy not only sexual desire but romantic love as well, indeed if we lose Eros we eventually lose motivation and interest.

Tolkien traced unhappiness in marriage, especially on the part of the husband, to the Church's failure to teach these truths and to speak of marriage honestly.


... the article tells us.  And Tolkien was lamenting this state many years ago!  It's only gotten worse, and the Church has only gotten more negligent.

This is why I think the Church is particularly called, in this day and age, to elucidate the nature of love, of mature love, which is maturity in Christ.

How are we to love?  That is the central challenge of life for all people.

And Jesus Christ is the only one who provides an answer to that challenge.

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March 17th, 2014But Where’s St. Patrick?by Joseph Pearce

I have much to celebrate on St. Patrick's Day. It is my son's birthday. He's twelve today. It's also my mother's birthday. She would have been 75 today. Sadly she passed away five years ago. We also have enough Irish in our family to make it special. My maternal grandmother hailed from County Galway and my mother-in-law is from County Tyrone. As I write, we have life-size leprechauns adorning our home and shamrocks plastered all over the place - to say nothing of the host of green balloons.

In our home, at least, we will not only celebrate Ireland and Irishness but also the great patron saint of that most enigmatic of Isles. It is, first and foremost, his day. With this in mind, I was intrigued by this article about the exclusion of St. Paddy from Paddy's Day in today's International Business Times:

http://www.ibtimes.com/st-patricks-day-2014-commercialization-trivialization-irish-people-culture-1561777

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March 17th, 2014Racing with the Devil, Looking at the Starsby Joseph Pearce

Here's a review of my book, Race with the Devil, and an interview that I gave about the power of beauty in my own conversion, both published in North Texas Catholic:

http://www.northtexascatholic.org/pages/features-article?r=MKW8PNJZ91&send_to=/pages/features-news

http://www.northtexascatholic.org/pages/features-article?r=MKW8PNJZ91&send_to=/pages/features-news

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March 16th, 2014For Catholic Writers (and others)by Dena Hunt

Not too very long ago, Joseph posted a link to the First Things website and an article by Dana Gioia, “The Catholic Writer.” I followed the link and found the article substantial, comprehensive, and actually quite definitive of the peculiar situation, and the cultural context of that situation in which today’s Catholic writers find themselves. Authoritative prognosis and prescription are included. Consequently, I made a follow-up post on the subject. Now, Wiseblood Books, a new, young, Catholic publishing company, has published the essay in its entirety in a booklet form. (Apparently, we were not the only ones impressed by the essay.) For both writers and readers, and anyone else who may be interested, the paperbound 33-page booklet is available for a mere $5 from Wiseblood Books. For all those who complain, lament, bemoan, or just regret, it should be required reading.

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March 16th, 2014Our Father Who Art ... Where?by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org


Mindy (not her real name) was one of my actresses.  She turned 30 and panicked.  She paid thousands of dollars to a dating service and began hyper-dating, a lunch date and a dinner date every day with a different guy for several weeks straight.

Finally she settled on a guy who proposed to her.  Disaster was written all over the relationship.  He was strange and very controlling of her.  She invited me to her wedding.

I wrote her and told her that I could not come to her wedding because I did not think she was making a wise choice in marrying this guy.

She never spoke to me again.

Apparently, I was the only one who had said anything to her.  Her father, at least, remained silent, as far as I could tell.

***

Here's the dynamic of more than one family out there.

The teen daughter is highly sensitive and capable, but is given absolutely no discipline whatsoever.  The father withdraws from the family - either by means of over-work or simple abandonment - and the mother does her best to pick up the pieces, all by herself and without his help.  The daughter is depressed and miserable.  She cuts herself, does drugs, drifts away.  Dad does everything but that daily demanding up and down thing called being a father to this girl.  He works later every night, goes on more business trips, makes more money to pay for his daughter's numerous therapists and even more numerous "meds".  But he doesn't come home, and when he is home, he's not really there, if you know what I mean.

When it's a son that's been psychologically abandoned by his father, the dynamic is different.  But either way this scenario plays itself out all over the place.  Drive down a suburban street - even a very affluent suburban street (especially a very affluent suburban street) - and count the houses.  Divide by two or three and you'll be pretty close to estimating the number of households (I hesitate to call them families) who live like this - or worse.

Child abuse is a horrible thing.  Child neglect is a form of abuse.

***

I know a young woman whose father left the family when she was under the age of five.  She's smart enough to know it's not her fault that Daddy left her and her mother, but she lives her entire life as if it is indeed her fault.  She obsessively compensates for this "core shame", she targets older married men for seduction, she's always seeking a male figure who's just out of reach and inaccessible, and if he becomes accessible in any way, she dumps him and runs.  She flirts with bisexuality and Lesbianism.   She becomes hungry for power and success in a man's world.  She occasionally uses drugs and binge drinks.

Meanwhile, Daddy lives alone and has a secret perversion that only the family knows about.  He spends his time getting his kicks as far away from his wife and children as he possibly can.  He's "found himself".  He's privately pleased with his perversion.  He's happy.

***

We were friends with a Catholic family who lived near us.  The father was transferred to a city over 400 miles away.  The mother refused to move with him, claiming that she didn't want to take her children out of the parish school.  It was supposed to be a temporary situation, until he found a job back home, or until he talked her in to moving the family to be with him.

That was 12 years ago.

The mother and father still live in separate cities.  He comes home every other weekend to see his family, and vacations with them one week every summer and at Christmas.  He's been doing that since 2002.

His son was four when the father left home and the mother stayed in St. Louis with the kids.  The son is now 16.  He's a young man who has spent almost his entire childhood without a father.

Mom and Dad are married.  The mother is active at the Church - almost too active, over-volunteering.  Everyone in the parish knows about the situation and knows that - by their own choice - this couple is living a kind of de facto divorce.  This has been public knowledge for more than a decade.

The pastor of the parish has never, to my knowledge, confronted either the father (who's never there), or the mother (who is always there) about this - or even counseled them, for that matter.  She calls her pastor Father, as we Catholics tend to call our priests.  Like her biological father, who is too timid to be emphatic with this woman about the damage she is doing and has done to her family, her spiritual father simply ignores the situation and drops the ball.  Doesn't want to offend her, or assumes it's not his business, I suppose.

***

There is one aspect of the Catholic Church in the modern world that is the constant that runs through arguments about the liturgy, politics, evangelization and so forth.  Left or right can agree on one thing.

What is undeniably true in our Church today is that the bishops have abdicated their authority.

The Apostles have left the building.

The only thing they're supposed to do is witness for Christ - which means teach, admonish, encourage, and present us all mature in Christ (Col. 1:28).  But it is the one thing most of them never even seem to try to do.  As a rule, they manage (or mis-manage) their dioceses physically and financially, but never spiritually.

***

So what do we have in the world around us?  From the ghetto - where fathers are deliberately and conspicuously absent, to the suburbs, where fathers are sometimes physically absent and where father-ing is often absent, to the Church where bishops and their priests likewise are found to neglect being the "Fathers" we term them to be - we have a society where at a very deep level we are beginning to wonder, "Who's your daddy"?



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March 14th, 2014Kissinger on the Ukraineby Joseph Pearce

As a follow-up to my article published in yesterday's International Business Times and subsequently posted here on the Ink Desk, I'd like to draw attention to an excellent analysis of the Ukraine Crisis by Henry Kissinger. I have not admired everything Kissinger has done and said over the years but his analysis of the situation in Russia and the Ukraine is full of the sort of crucial details and salient principles that have been all so obviously absent in most other media coverage. 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/henry-kissinger-to-settle-the-ukraine-crisis-start-at-the-end/2014/03/05/46dad868-a496-11e3-8466-d34c451760b9_story.html

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March 14th, 2014Putin and Solzhenitsynby Joseph Pearce

At the risk of being controversial and no doubt unpopular in some so-called "conservative" circles, I've written an article for the International Business Times entitled "Russian Revelations: Putting Putin in Perspective":

http://www.ibtimes.com/russian-revelations-putting-putin-perspective-1561224

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March 14th, 2014Tolkien on Sexby Joseph Pearce

Here's an insightful article by Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentcuky, on Tolkien's view of sex and sexuality.

http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=18690#.UyFtnvldVOF

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March 10th, 2014Folk Art, Pop Art and Mid-Western Wineby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

I've just come back from a rather remarkable tour in which I became the only person on Earth to see the Walter Cronkite Memorial, the Jolly Green Giant Statue, Three Stooges Totem Pole Yard Art, and the Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk on one trip.

And here's my photo essay to prove it.  National Geographic, eat your heart out.

 

 

At Calico Skies Winery, not far from Sioux Falls, South Dakota

 

The view from the tasting room at Calico Skies.

 

The Barrel Room of Calico Skies.

 

The Jolly Green Giant, Blue Earth, MN.

 

Actress Maria Romine dwarfed by the Giatn.

 

Maria between the legs of one far greater than she.

 

Maria in Spring Valley, Minnesota.

 

To the left is the beautiful Methodist Church in Spring Valley, MN.  To the right is a house with three characters in the front yard.  Who could they be???

 

Why it's the Three Stooges playing golf!  Three-Stooges-wood-carved-folk-art-Totem-Pole-yard-ornaments.

 

Left to right: Curly, Moe, Larry.  Holding golf clubs.

 

Larry

 

Curly

 

Moe.

 

... and Marilyn - the Men's Room, Four Daughters Winery, Spring Valley, MN

 

... from the ridiculous to the sublime, from pop art to art - the Nativity, glass, St. Mary's Church, Riverside, Iowa.

 

Mary at the Annunciation.

 

Jesus raising the dead girl 

 

St. Mary's in Riverside.

 

St. Mary's, exterior.  Note the clouds forming vertical accent lines behind the church.

 

Riverside is the Future Birthplace of Capt. James T. Kirk.

 

The Riverside Senior Dining Center.  To the right the window reads, "Join us and dine with the ancestors of our own Capt. James Kirk".

 

From wooden statues of Moe, Larry and Curly to a wooden statue of William Shatner.  Kirk Museum, Riverside.

 

You can pilot the USS Enterprise while taking care of other matters at the Kirk Birthplace Museum in Riverside.

 

I am told that to avoid a lawsuit from Paramount Pictures, the stone marker of the Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk had to be hidden behind the Riverside Beauty Parlor.

 

 

 

Downtown Riverside resident Robert Ryan regaled us with stories and hospitality.

 

Sources tell me that not only will Riverside, Iowa be the Future Birthplace of Captain Kirk - but the pool table at Murphy's Bar in Riverside will be the site of his Future Conception.

 

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March 10th, 2014High School Summer Program on the Catholic Writerby Joseph Pearce

I will be teaching a week-long course this summer at Thomas More College on the Catholic Writer. If you know of any high school students who would like to sign up for the course, please direct them to the following websites:


http://www.thomasmorecollege.edu/summerprogram/catholic-writers-program

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/1449dc291f05e29d?compose=144acd8bec139f2b&projector=1

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March 10th, 2014Lessons from Solzhenitsynby Joseph Pearce

Here's a good article on Solzhenitsyn's towering legacy in the Imaginative Conservative:


http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/03/learning-solzhenitsyn-ii.html

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March 10th, 2014Distributism versus Economic Liberalismby Joseph Pearce

I've just responded to a correspondent who was enquiring about the best distributist texts to recommend to his students. He also asked for a good distribitust critique of economic liberalism. Here's my response:

The essay by Chesterton is "Reflections on a Rotten Apple" from his book, The Well & the Shallows. The other books by GKC that you might consider using are The Outline of Sanity and What's Wrong with the World. Belloc is, however, the Master in this respect. I would recommend his Servile State and his Essay on the Restoration of Property. 

For a text that discusses distributism from the perspective of an engagement with economic liberalism I would suggest Belloc's Economics for Helen. For modern distributist engagements with economic liberalism I'd recommend Toward a Truly Free Market by John C. Medaille (ISI Books) and The Church and the Libertarian by Christopher A. Ferrara (Remnant Press). 

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March 10th, 2014Guillotine, Gulag & Gas Chamberby Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative focuses on the glorious gifts that atheism has bestowed on humanity:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/03/guillotine-gulag-gas-chamber-glorious-gifts-atheism-and-war-humanity.html#more-43368

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March 8th, 2014Son of Godby Dena Hunt

This isn’t intended to be a film review, but in case it hasn’t been said elsewhere (and it probably has), this film is another rendition of the Gospel According to Dan Brown. According to the other Gospels, women [plural] followed Christ and numbered among his disciples, women [plural] followed Christ on the Way of the Cross and wept for him, leading to his address to them, “Do not weep for me, but for yourselves…” But according to Son of God, there’s only one woman with the apostles, only one woman was with the Blessed Mother at the Cross (The other Gospel writers must have got that wrong). Indeed, there was only one female follower of Christ: Mary Magdalene, who went with him everywhere, always at his side, closer than Peter, closer than John.  

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March 7th, 2014Neutering Realityby Joseph Pearce

My good friend, Louis Markos, has long been one of the brightest lights in the literary firmament. He's at his best in this luminous article about gender-neutrality in language and the neutering of marriage:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/03/now-pronounce-human-human-christian-acceptance-of-gay-marriage.html

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March 7th, 2014Raymond Arroyo and Dean Koontzby Joseph Pearce

I was greatly intrigued by this interview with Dean Koontz, the bestselling author. I had known for some time that he was a Catholic but this interview gives intriguing insights into the nature and depth of his faith:

http://www.ewtn.com/tv/live/worldover.asp

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March 6th, 2014Let Them Eat Cake?by Joseph Pearce

A friend has sent me this amusing story about a general in the British army banning his men from eating sandwiches, condemning the eating with hands as a barbaric practise.

I'm pleased that England can still produce delightful eccentrics but I can't help wondering what the Earl of Sandwich would think of his blue-blooded invention being deemed unsuitable for red-blooded men:

http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2014/03/06/army-general-issues-sandwich-ban-says-troops-eating-with-hands-barbaric/?intcmp=trending

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March 6th, 2014Man to Manby Joseph Pearce

I'm preparing to fly tomorrow from Thomas More College in New Hampshire, where I've been teaching this week, to a Catholic Men's Conference in Kansas City. It is, therefore, in a spirit of appropriate masculinity that I gave an interview to a Catholic Men's website. The interview covers topics ranging from my own conversion to my meeting with Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Here's the link:

http://twofistedreader.com/bookreviews/2014/3/4/author-interview-joseph-pearce

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March 6th, 2014Ash Wednesdayby Dena Hunt

I almost didn’t go to Mass tonight. I usually go to Mass on Ash Wednesday at noon, and I’ve always been amazed to see the number of people there. Why? I remember last year I asked the priest that question. “This is nothing,” he said. “You should see how many there will be tonight!”

It’a not a day of obligation. As I said, I almost didn’t go. That may sound bad, but the reason is even worse: I’d had someone in for drinks (on Ash Wednesday!), and I didn’t want to drive, but at the last minute, seeing that it was only a few blocks away….

The church was packed. Standing room only. Why? I spoke to the priest standing at the back of the sanctuary when I entered. “Why?” I asked again. “It’s always like this,” he answered. “This time I think there’s even more than there were on Christmas Eve.”

And still there is no answer: Why? Attendance on days of obligation is very sparse by comparison. The deacon’s homily offered an answer—because there’s something in human beings that always wants “a new beginning.” Hallmarky, facile—I don’t believe that’s why. 

During Lent and Advent, attendance at daily Mass picks up a little, and so I expect to see a few more people at the noon Mass tomorrow. Attendance won’t be consistently higher, but it is generally higher. (One can’t help but wonder what happens when the penitential seasons are over. What is it about Christmas and Easter that makes people stop attending daily Mass?)

I’ve never seen most of those people before. I don’t think they’re Catholic, maybe not even Christian. People just want ashes on their foreheads, and they want them put there in a ritual, in church, by a deacon or priest. Why? There’s just no answer…. 

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March 6th, 2014Beatle Juice - Concentrate!by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

I've been asked by Vegas.com (that's right, Vegas.com) to post something about the Beatles.

This is because Beatle fans are currently celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Fab Four's first tour of the United States - and Vegas promoters are involved because there's quite a few Beatle-themed shows, venues and events going on there, which you can read about in this article about the Beatles in Vegas by Jennifer Whitehair and Nicole Lucht.

So, me and the Beatles.  Where to begin?    50 years ago, I suppose.


The Year: 1964.  The Place: My bathtub.

Yours truly, circa 1964.

My sister Carla was crazy about the Beatles.  I mean, big time.  She had a favorite, but that was a secret and she wouldn't tell me who it was.

I was three years old and in my bathtub.

The TV in the adjacent bedroom (black-and-white of course) was tuned in to The Ed Sullivan Show and suddenly the Beatles were singing.  This was not their first appearance, and it was one my sister didn't know about.  "Wait til Carla finds out the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan tonight!" my mother said.  "She'll be so upset she missed them!"

 

Sister Carla about the time the Beatles came to America.


I remember, at age three, wearing a Beatle wig and going around the house with a toy guitar singing like them.  My mother thought it was delightful.  It seemed to me that the best way to make sure my mother loved me was to perform for her - and that, it seems, was the ugly beginning of a deep-seated neurosis that has kept me in show business ever since.  So I guess I have the Beatles to blame.

My sister told me she was dating one of the Beatles.  I believed her.

But then again, I believed my father when he'd telephone from work.  My mom would say Steve Allen was calling, and she'd put my dad on the phone with me and I'd be in heaven because I was talking to Steve Allen, who was my third biggest hero in life.  The other two were Alvin the Chipmunk and Ringo.







The Three Stooges came in fourth, fifth and sixth.  My sister started dating a guy named Larry.  I asked her if this was the same Larry who was one of the Three Stooges.  She said yes indeed it was.  Larry came by the house to pick her up.  I remember shaking his hand and looking up at him in awe - and wondering why he looked nothing like he did on TV.


But I digress.


The Year: 1978.  The Place: A Darkened Movie Theater.

By the time I was a teen-ager, I had one great passion.

Naturally, it was Disco.

Here I am with my girlfriend Missy at age 17 or 18, looking like John Travolta with Harpo Marx hair.



So Missy and I went to see the Bee Gee's in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, which was terrible.  But the music fascinated me.

I remember one of the local radio stations, to mark the release of the film, playing the original Sgt. Pepper's album, by the Beatles, and I remember recording it on my cassette deck.  The sound quality was pretty bad, as this was an AM station, and we were tuning in from miles away at night.  But I remember sitting in the dark listening to that cassette over and over again, utterly enthralled by this music.

It was actually better than Disco!


The Year: 1995.  The Place: Under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Well, we're not under the Arch yet.  First, we have to get there.  First, we're in my living room.

"Karen," I told my wife.  "Ringo is coming to town.  My sister Carla and I must go see him.  He'll be playing at the VP Fair under the arch on July 2.  The concert is free.  I've got to go!"

"Kevin," she replied, "I am pregnant.  My due date is July 4.  You can't go to a Ringo Starr concert two days before my due date!"

"Karen," I said, this is Ringo Starr - the best member of the best band of all time!"

"Kevin," she said, "You can't go!"

Well, I went.



And before the concert and at intermission and after the concert I called Karen from the payphone in the basement of the Arch - just to make sure she wasn't going into labor.  This was before we had a cell  phone - pretty much before anybody had a cell phone.

And guess what - she was fine!  She had no baby on July 2.  Women!  All they do is worry.

The next morning at breakfast, Karen told me she was having cramps.  We went to the hospital and our daughter Kerry was born that afternoon - less than 24 hours after Ringo and the All Starr Band had performed in front of me, my sister, and several thousand others.

Kerry, apparently mad at me because I almost missed her birth.


The Year: 2014.  The Place: The Internet.

So here we are up to date.  Here I am writing, mostly about Culture and Religion and how the two play off one another.  So does that really include Vegas and the Beatles?  Of course it does.

The Beatles were an astonishing cultural phenomenon - and we can learn a thing or two about the Faith along the way.

JOHN - the acerbic, complex leader - is today perhaps best known among the Devout Demographic who reads this blog for his song "Imagine".  You'll hear lots of Christians complain about the overt atheism and secularism of the song, though the line "nothing to kill or die for" has always struck me as the saddest part, for that describes a life not worth living.  If you don't love something or someone enough to die for him or her, you're not fully engaging in life.  You're not really loving.  But the song is beautiful and haunting, and the idealism - if naive and misplaced - comes from the best part of John and the best part of the atheist / secularists around us.

PAUL - John's perfect counterpart and probably the best musician of the group.  Forget Sir Paul's strident vegetarianism for a moment, and see the haunted deep soul peeking at us through his eyes.  His music comes from a vulnerable place, and though he was never as in-your-face with his own personal suffering as John was (John was always kind of raw and naked before us), it's there, it's deep, and it colors every song he writes and sings.

GEORGE - Though George and his annoying Pop Eastern Mysticism sometimes bothers me, and though "While my Guitar Gently Weeps" has always struck me as a pretentious and turgid song, some of the lyrics from that tune are inspired and speak not only to Hindus, but to Christians and all human beings.  I quoted from them just the other day -

I don't know why nobody told you 
how to unfold your love 
I don't know how someone controlled you 
they bought and sold you 

This is, as I said before, the primary goal of all life - learning how to "unfold our love".  Nobody (other than Christ and His saints) really tells us or shows us how.  On the contrary, if we don't watch out, not only will we not be told, we will be "bought and sold", "controlled" and living only for our shallow desires and existing merely for the usefulness of others.

George got that and put it into a lot of his music.

RINGO - And this is why Ringo, my favorite Beatle - Ringo, the sane Beatle, Ringo the affable Beatle, Ringo the happy Beatle - is all about "peace and love".  It may be a less-than-full version of the true peace and love that await those who live in imitation of Jesus Christ, but it's a sign that points in the right direction.


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March 5th, 2014Ratzinger’s Heirby Joseph Pearce

I was greatly encouraged to read this interview with Cardinal Muller in the National Catholic Register. It seems that the Congregatin for the Doctrine of the Faith is in safe hands:

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/cardinal-mueller-discusses-divorced-remarried-reception-of-communion-and-li/#ixzz2v1i8k1XU

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March 5th, 2014What Hath the Internet Wrought?by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

We keep forgetting that we have just a few years experience of this new technology and we are utterly unprepared for how it affects our souls.


For instance, throughout all of Christian history, if a married man started to spend too much time alone with a single woman, everyone in town would talk and the parish priest would privately admonish both of them.  Nowadays they can bare their souls to one another via email, and no one is the wiser - and even if they don't bare their bodies via Skype or sexting, they may have crossed a line without completely realizing what they were doing.  I've known people who have fallen into this habit almost unawares.  It's like taking a very strong drug that no one has yet figured out is addictive.

It's also quite possible - for teens in particular - to develop a tremendously intense and weird intimacy by being always with a friend in a virtual way 24 / 7.  I know a teen whose Skype is always on, though the video is sometimes off, and she and her boyfriend who lives 1,000 miles away (and who is not the most well-adjusted of persons) are either constantly listening to one another's lives unfold as they carry their laptops about with them, incessantly texting, instant messaging, or (if it's late), watching each other masturbate.  Disturbing as that last bit might be, it pales in comparison to the psychological effects of being a kind of electronic Siamese twin to someone you've never even met in person.  Her parents are clueless.  They don't for a minute suspect that their daughter's being with this guy non-stop every waking moment - and being with a lot of other bizarre strangers she meets at weird social sites - is bad for her.

And then there's the internet's effect in Catholic circles, where I've noticed two phenomena I think are directly related to the nature of the new technology.  First, fringe groups like the Radical Traditionalists are given much more prominence than they actually have.  Since the rad trads tend to be readers and writers as well as obsessive compulsive and paranoid, the internet suits them perfectly.  The noise they make on Facebook and blogs leads one to believe that the Church is in an utter hateful antisemitic meltdown.  They use the hit-and-run nature of the anonymity and pseudo-authority comboxes and blogs provide to make everyone think they're a far greater presence in the Church than the mere one percent or less of the overall Catholic population that they happen to be.

The other odd thing I've noticed is that unbalanced people, or run of the mill "cranks", can cause far more trouble on the internet than they can in newspapers or even talk radio, where comments are by and large edited and screened.  I personally know of one Lone Ranger clergyman out there who has been banned from a dozen blogs and elicited scores of complaints to his ordinary for troubling people in a way that he would never be able to get away with in the days of the old technology - newspapers, television, talk radio, postal mail, etc.  The immediacy of internet communication, the small amount of effort required to press a point compulsively, the lack of editorial oversight, the ability to use the internet to focus on any subject or person that interests you without limit day and night, and the appearance to readers that everything asserted on the internet by someone who has a kind of authority and who writes with conviction must carry a certain veracity (this is a holdover from the days when it took a certain real authority to become a published author) - all of these factors combine to allow both fringe groups as well as fringe individuals an environment in which to flourish: the way a warm day will allow a bacterial culture on your picnic lunch to flourish.

And, as usual, Cracked has a lot of insight on this subject.

People like to be terrible, and the Net makes it easier to be terrible. It lets them put their cruelty out into the world without the burden of being tethered to it. They are released, and they sprint happily across the World Wide Web dropping little nuggets of awful without consequence. ... Has the Net made people more awful? Impossible. That's like drawing horns on a picture of Hitler -- doesn't add a lot. But the Net is a tool for the awful who already exist. And it provides a safe haven where they sharpen their cyber-weapons in the dark.

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March 3rd, 2014Chesterton and the Meaning of Educationby Joseph Pearce

I return to the hot topic of education in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/02/chesterton-and-the-meaning-of-education.html

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March 1st, 2014Shopping Malls, the Beatles and the God of our Desireby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)


But what are the "desires of your heart"?  

For the Westians it's sexual license and an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet.  For them and for many quasi-secularists in the Church this beautiful verse from Psalm 37 isn't echoed by Jesus Christ when He says, "I am he who searches hearts and minds" (Rev. 2:23).  For them there is nothing to search.  Desire is all a sort of biological urge and it's rather superficial, even though we spiritualize it and call even nudism and exhibitionism "Theology of the Body".  As I've said before, these pop-culture Catholics fail to see the role of the Cross in the fulfillment of desire; they fail to admit the integration of sacrifice and renunciation into love.  Like the secularists that surround us, they ignore the fact that desire is only productive within a very limited channel that God has already dug and laid out for us, and that outside of that channel, it can overwhelm us and the world like Noah's flood.

I think this springs from a serious confusion about the role of desire in our lives - and ultimately about the role of love.

So again, what are the "desires of your heart"?

For some it's not so much sex, but baubles, trinkets, vanities.  When the Preacher tells us that "all is vanity" in the book of Ecclesiastes, he's at least including things like wisdom and effort - and he's not right when he says this, but he at least had to ponder some deep things to get to that conclusion.  However it takes no depth of wisdom, no preacher like Qoheleth, to see that our mercantile culture, where all desire is created by advertising and satisfied by shopping, is not only "vane" but also "inane".

No, it's not Jesus - it's Beatle George!


Even the Beatles got this.  Even the Eastern-mystery-loving George Harrison understood that this consumer culture is about scam artists creating false and shallow desires that they satisfy with snake oil, smoke and mirrors.  They not only sell the sizzle instead of the steak - but they deliver fizzle instead of sizzle and sell us out in the process.

I don't know why nobody told you 
how to unfold your love 
I don't know how someone controlled you 
they bought and sold you 


In other words, there are those among us who will treat us as if we are indeed homo consumens, "consuming man", and that the desires of our hearts are no deeper than the passing thrills that tickle our fancies.  Erich Fromm, who coined the phrase homo consumens, elaborates on this ...

I think many people, if they were honest with their concept of heaven, would imagine heaven to be a tremendous department store in which they could buy something new every day and perhaps a little more than their neighbors.  


Fromm goes on, expounding on the state of our modern culture ...

... everything and almost everybody is for sale. Not only commodities and services, but ideas, arts, books, persons, convictions, a feeling, a smile -- they all have been transferred into commodities. And so is the whole of man, with all his facilities and potentialities. 


... so that the young end up less than fully human ...

Many of the younger generation tend to have no character at all. By that I do not mean that they are dishonest; on the contrary, one of the few enjoyable things in the modern world is the honesty of a great part of the younger generation. What I mean is that they live, emotionally and intellectually speaking, from hand to mouth. They satisfy every need immediately, have little patience to learn, cannot easily endure frustration, and have no center within themselves, no sense of identity. They suffer from this and question themselves, their identity, and the meaning of life.


***

I have known many amazing people in my life, some of them young people.  One young person I knew was intensely vivacious, intelligent and spiritual and, for a number of reasons, had some trouble with the desires of her heart.  What were they?  What were the desires of her heart?  Like many young people, she experimented and went on a few adventures to find out.

She learned early on that if she bought the bill of good the hucksters sell us, the lie that the desires of our hearts are simply the desires of our flesh, that she'd end up miserable, empty and addicted.  Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll taught her that.

And yet she had no one in her life who could help her understand how to channel her heart's desire, or as Beatle George says, "I don't know why nobody told you how to unfold your love".  A woman of intense love and profound desire, she could not, on her own, come up with reasonable boundaries to enable her desire - her love - to be productive.  Which of us could - on our own?  I don't know why nobody tells us how to unfold our love - especially in the Church, when this is what becoming "fully mature in Christ" (Col. 1:28) is all about.  It's even what the simplicity of the Ten Commandments is all about.

And so she would often fall into grave and foolish situations that would later cause her much shame.  There was little hope that she would find the kind of guidance to be presented "fully mature in Christ", little chance that she would stumble upon a writer or a friend or a pastor or anyone who could keep her from selling out or from escaping the fate that George laments, "They bought and sold you".

But there's always love, always the love between friends.  That may yet save her from the fate of the age - though the last I heard, she was tenaciously pursuing success in the corporate world, as if such a thing were the essence of the "desires of her heart".

***

Don't we get it?

Don't we see how if all our love were made for is shopping malls, video games and promiscuous sexual encounters in person or over the internet that we are no better than the beasts - indeed we're a good deal worse?

I say again that what we desperately need in the Church is guidance in sanctification.  We need not just the passing feelings that may or may not strike us during Mass, but we need a conscious and integrated approach of becoming "fully mature in Christ" - of becoming Adults who Can Love.

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February 28th, 2014Chesterton’s Nightmareby Joseph Pearce

There's an excellent article on Chesterton's "nightmare", The Man Who was Thursday, by Sean Fitzpatrick in yesterday's Crisis Magazine: 

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/chestertons-the-man-who-was-thursday-nightmare-or-dream-come-true

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February 27th, 2014Keeping On Moving Onby Dena Hunt

Continuing this rumination of illusory mobility (Moving On, February 22), I’ve been thinking about the way experience shapes our (stationary) selves. When I lived in Europe, I met a few expatriate Americans, who always interested me. What was it about Germany, about Italy, that made them “at home” there? I took it for granted that some very negative experience of some kind had made them uproot themselves from the entire United States (not just their hometowns), and adopt a foreign country, a foreign culture and people, as their own, but I was usually wrong in this assumption.

It was a topic I approached as delicately as I could. I was curious, but I didn’t want to be offensively “nosey.” I needn’t have feared. None of them had any difficulty answering questions: Why would you leave the United States for good—permanently? (Often, they’d never returned, or they hadn’t returned for many years.) They didn’t usually change their citizenship, though some did; it was just that “citizenship” had no personal significance for them; it was not an identity they either claimed or disclaimed.

Where did you come from? It was always the North somewhere, or the Midwest—oddly, never the West or the South.

Why did you decide to move here (Florence, Heidelberg, Lucerne) permanently? You’ve never wanted to go back at all? I don’t know. I like it here. I just don’t want to go back.

So—how long have you been here now, without returning? Eight years, seventeen, whatever. My mom passed away last year—I went back for the funeral.

And so it went.

Much of this part of our zeitgeist that sees living as “moving on” from one life experience to the next, ad infinitum, is simply refuted by those who actually do move—like expatriates. Or, perhaps, like me. I was born an hour away from where I live now, but from earliest childhood, I moved—and moved—and moved. I changed schools seventeen times in twelve years. I won’t go into a life story here, but when someone asks me, “Was your father military?” My answer is, “No, my mother was romantic.”

Wherever I went, I was always “the new girl.” I learned some things (though not much in school, with all that moving). For example, at one school, the response to me might be welcoming; at another, I’d be the instant outcast. Very early, without knowing it, I learned that whoever I am, it has nothing to do with what others think of me. I also learned that whatever a problem may be, its solution is not geographic. These are important lessons, usually reserved for adult learning, but I knew them at ten. And I learned detachment, a mixed blessing, as those who have it know well.

We don’t move on. We stay “where” we are and respond to the experiences that come to us, and it’s our responses (or reactions) to these experiences that form us. We do not leave (“move on”) from our experiences; they leave us. They leave us even if we don’t want them to. And they leave us changed, whether we like it or not, forever. We can’t undo them by moving on from them.

The expatriates I met in Europe did not hate America, nor did they love it. Their attitude toward America was largely indifferent. They simply didn’t “live” there; that is, there was no living of their lives there. They “lived” in Brussels, or Geneva, or Madrid, and they chose to stay where they lived.

Life is not a journey without a destination. It’s a destination, a place without the option of leaving it (except via death). I think this notion of leaving, of constant moving, is a way of denying the irrevocability of what is done to us and of what we do (sin). It makes us believe that we need only forgive or apologize and all is “undone,” and we can move on as if nothing had happened. What is the half-life of that styrofoam cup you dropped in the forest? A thousand years. But what is the half-life of that adultery you committed against your marriage? Or that abandonment of your child? Eternity.

Why is that hard to accept? Because it means our power is not so great as we’d like to believe, that we are not each other’s answer to a question or a problem, that our only true security is God. But most of all, if we look at the root of all such human attempts to alter the unalterable reality where we have—all of us—always lived, we find it’s the same old cause: the pursuit of immortality, the fear of death, that drives such attempts to remake that reality, to get a new address—to run.

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February 26th, 2014When We Go Internationalby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

Your faithful editor and wordsmith has been featured in the Spanish language paper Religion en Libertad, where they also give a shout out to StAR. Pretty nifty, all in all!

http://religionenlibertad.com/articulo.asp?idarticulo=32791


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February 25th, 2014The Science of Loveby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. - (Rev. 2:4)

How to love is the central problem of our lives as Christians.  It is a sorely neglected topic.

Because it is neglected, people like Christopher West are able to say things that they claim are about love, but are simply indications of their own pathology.  From his latest newsletter ...

“I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid myself” is transformed into “I was at peace, because I know God loves me; so I exposed myself.”  Lord, teach us how to be naked before you!


Well, love is not about nudism, and it is certainly not about exhibitionism.   But because this whole topic is neglected, the vacuum is filled by weirdness like that.

So let me touch on a few things I've learned, and I speak with the authority of an actor and a poet - which is a very suspect authority, I admit.  But I have spent my life either burying my love in a hole in the back yard or spending it foolishly and frivolously on women, clients or friends who have taken advantage of me because I was giving - but giving in the wrong way, or to the wrong people or giving for reasons that were more about my own neediness than about the other person.

And please understand that these are things that I am still learning or struggling to understand myself.  So as provisional observations on the challenge of mature love, I offer the following ...

  • You can't motivate another person.  You can't get an actor to want to do a good job at a show if he's not already motivated to do so.  And you can't make another person love you, or love you in the way that you desire.  The trick is finding the client who is willing to pay you, discovering the audience who wants to see your show, casting the actor who's already motivated and is willing to learn, or the finding the woman who loves you and will do so in a sane and healthy way.

  • Red flags should be heeded.  If you compromise on a core issue at the beginning of a friendship or a business relationship, you'll simply open the door to continued demands to compromise from that point forward.

  • You can love a person from afar.  In other words, if your friend or lover or family member becomes unapproachable - either they become addicts or they get angry and reject you or they give themselves to a lifestyle that you can't condone - your love and prayers and loyalty can still be exercised, even if you are never able to speak to that person again.  Love sometimes demands separation; it is sometimes the only possible expression of love.

  • Shaking the dust from your feet and moving on - difficult as that may be - is neither cold-heartedness nor pride.  It's a form of humility and the command to do so is God's admonition to save us from pouring our efforts into black holes.  We are obligated to love, but we have a right to expect a return of some sort.  People who love without reciprocation are miserable - because unrequited love (and unrewarded effort), common though it is, is contrary to the way reality is supposed to work.

  • But by the same token, if we focus only on return - if we're in it only for the money or the applause or the accolades - we're in it for the wrong reason.  The reward should be the harvest, the result of a job well done, the fruit of love invested well and wisely.  

  • But, especially when it comes to Evangalizing, we cannot always judge our efforts by the immediate fruit our efforts bear.  Prudence in this regard should be applied to the welcome we are given, the hearing we receive.  So if someone shuts his or her ears and threatens us to make us be silent, then further efforts are merely bad stewardship of love.  However, if we're heard and considered, then the seed is being sown and God will work the increase, in His own way and in His own time, from there - and that part is beyond our control.

  • Love always entails sacrifice.  If someone tells you that love is about self-indulgence - or that spirituality is about self-indulgence - that person is a false prophet and should be avoided.

 

  • And if all of your friends are telling you she's bad for you and you're wasting your time - or if you're trying to land a client that others have had nothing but trouble with - or if you decide to cast an actor who has let other directors down in the past - don't be a fool.  Your magic wand won't transform a bad piece of work into a masterpiece.  You don't have that power.  Be humble, accept the pain and move on.

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February 25th, 2014With Eliot in The Waste Landby Joseph Pearce

The latest of the interviews that I've given to Kris McGregor on Great Works in Western Literature has just been uploaded. It's a discussion on Eliot's Twentieth Century Masterpiece, "The Waste Land":

GWML#21 T.S. Eliot and “The Wasteland” – Great Works in Western Literature with Joseph Pearce

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February 25th, 2014The End of Educationby Joseph Pearce

So just how poisonous and dangerous is the government's common core? I give my own view on the matter in my latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/02/end-education.html

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February 25th, 2014The Way of Beauty at Thomas More Collegeby Joseph Pearce

My colleague at Thomas More College, David Clayton, has written an excellent piece about the role of beauty in Catholic education. David is artist-in-residence at TMC, dovetailing with my own position as writer-in-residence. His work is featured in the forthcoming issue of StAR. Here's his article:

http://thewayofbeauty.org/2014/02/why-a-formation-in-catholic-culture-is-central-to-catholic-education/

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February 24th, 2014The Lion’s Heartby Dena Hunt

I’m very happy to report that a new edition of my second novel will be forthcoming in June from Full Quiver Publishing. The Lion’s Heart is a love story … of a very different kind.

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February 23rd, 2014The Preacher’s Wifeby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The book of Ecclesiastes can elicit many responses.  Most moderns love the thing, but it has always struck me as being something that only a bored urbanite could produce.  I had some friends before my conversion who were the sort of people the Preacher is in this book - sophisticated to the point of resigned complacency.  I mean it takes a certain kind of effete intellectual to produce a work like this; only a certain kind of person could not only say that "all is vanity", but that even the simple things that give us joy, such as eating and drinking and sometimes even working is "vanity".  There is nothing new under the sun?  Well, who cares when we live in such a world with such a sun!

Still, however, what the Preacher says is true.  All is "vanity" if life in the world is all we've got.  Thus, the book can certainly be read as an admonition to avoid worldliness, as a prelude to Christian asceticism.  But it's not really that because it's far too pessimistic and negative - negative to the point of Buddhism - to be the great book of wisdom that the many make it out to be.

I think it's in the Bible almost as a kind of irony or contrast.  It shows the limits of life without life, life without the spark of the Spirit, the invigorating Breath of God.  It shows how far we can go without Him and still congratulate ourselves for being wise.

***

And here's something that struck me today.  Ecclesiastes could never be written by a woman.

No woman who ever lived has ever cultivated and developed this keen sense of airy disappointment.  Only guys get depressed philosophically.  Women don't experience this kind of turmoil - this kind of distant and cool distress. Why is that?

And why is it that only the Woman at the Well (who wrote a recent guest post here) can feel the profound sense of shame and worthlessness of a life wasted?  Men who go wrong either make a sweeping change and go suddenly right (as did the Prodigal Son), or dally and brood in a kind of netherworld where their sin and dissipation leads them to a theoretical land of ennui.

But women know much more innately the promise that is in them.  No woman would ever say, "Vanity of vanities.  All is vanity."  She might get despondent, but she knows the value of life and she knows that she is the incubator of life.  She knows that even in vanity or emptiness a silent seed can sprout.  She knows life more intimately, more practically and less theoretically than the man, and she doesn't lose herself in the kind of speculative Neverland that some men do.  When she goes bad, she knows it with a kind of burning shame that incubates the way the seed does, festering in her in an immediate way that can't be examined with the kind of distant objective dispassion that the Preacher uses.  Touch upon the shame in a shameful woman and she'll cut you to pieces.  She lives it too closely to examine it.  She must act and bring forth life now - or death, or something!  Existence not a game for her - it's not a theory or a philosophy, and she typically has little patience with that tendency in men - especially in the man who happens to be her man.

This is why Shakespeare's Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth ring so true.  He's philosophical about his descent into sin.  She has no patience with that; she gets the job done.  "Infirm of purpose, give me the dagger!"  Likewise, the Melancholy Dane would never be a Melancholy Dame.

***

Now the last time I made an observation about the difference between men and women, the readers of my own blog offered to crucify me.  But I urge the readers here to get mad at the God who made us different, and not at the poor schlub who points the differences out.

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February 22nd, 2014God and Puppy Loveby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

In Colossians 1:28, St. Paul says
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

I commented a few days ago that "maturity in Christ" is an unheard of concept these days - at least unheard of from the pulpit.

What I mean by that is that while we hear a lot about "love", we never hear about mature love, or the love of adults.  We hear about love of God and love of neighbor, but the love we are preached is a kind of puppy love. Love remains a kind of emotion or sense of benign good will.  It is at best being nice and at worst doing whatever turns us on.  "Love" is a puerile and childish thing, or seems to be if you simply listen to most homilies.

Or perhaps love is not exactly "childish" but worse, it's "adolescent".  "Love" for some is merely an excuse for a sophomoric indulgence of sexual desire; and there are those who imply that the path to God begins in our groins.

But what is mature love - which must be a key component of being "mature in Christ"?  Is mature love the denial of all sexual desire?  Is it Puritanism?  Is it repression and frustration?

Later in the Epistle to the Colossians, Paul says

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5)


Christopher West and his followers would say that someone who says such a thing is a Puritan, a Theology of the Body neophyte.  They would concede that sexual immorality and evil desire are wrong - but passion?  Passion is the way to God!  The Passion of Christ means not just His suffering on the cross, but the intense desire that springs up in us that leads us to Him.  Passion is Eros.  And Eros is love, or at least an aspect of love.

But is this what Paul means by "passion" (πάθος - sometimes translated "lust")?

For Paul πάθος (pathos) means a kind of abdication of human reason, a giving in to an emotion so that it dominates us - whether that emotion is sexual desire, anger, greed, or what have you.  Addiction, lust, hungering for money and power - these are passions that destroy us, but the desire at the root of these passions is not in itself necessarily evil.  It is good to want sex, good to enjoy drinking, good to work for money.

And if this kind of desire for something beyond us is loosely called Eros, then what we see in our culture is obvious.

  • We see the secular world (and much of the Christian world) elevating Eros as the God of salvation, and completely ignoring that allowing desire to dominate us is horribly dangerous, that sex can no more exist without rational boundaries than capitalism can exist without laws that restrain it and keep it from eating us all up.  But Westians deny the one and Republicans deny the other.  
  • And on the other hand we still see (if we look hard enough) a tradition that realizes, as Paul did, that the only way to exercise our Eros, which is to say the only way to love, is to use our rational faculties as well as our emotions and our spiritual instincts - to integrate our lives prudentially as fully formed adults "mature in Christ"; that to do anything else is to make our gods our appetites (Phil. 3:19)

Yes, Eros is love, but when did we become so foolish as to believe that love is something that should not be restrained or cultivated or canalized in a mature and adult way?

I am coming to believe more and more that what we need most desperately in the Church is a well articulate theology of mature love.


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February 22nd, 2014Moving Onby Dena Hunt

In some movie recently, I heard the expression, “I’ve moved on.” The context was, as you might expect, somebody telling a former lover that he/she no longer matters. (That one should make such a remark to another rather proves the opposite, of course.) It isn’t we who “move on”; it’s whatever that does the moving. We ourselves stand still. We do not move. Often, we wish this were not so, but it is. One sits beside the bed of a dying loved one and is horrified by his own fervent wish that “it” should be “over.”

Where did this mobility illusion come from? Twentieth-century thought from John Dewey (“process” philosopher); the notion of speed and travel so titillated by cars, trains, planes, and finally, space travel; the popular (and inaccurate) view of Einstein’s space and time theories: Many historical and scientific elements provided psychic pillars for Dewey’s “process” view and for the illusion we have today that we, collectively, are on a “journey.” It’s a view that has become a religion. It is The Human Journey, there is no destination, no end, we are ever becoming greater and more wonderful and we always will; now we venture on to transhumanism—and the wheels turn round and round, faster and faster, but we are not afraid for we have faith in ourselves. There are those whose eyes glaze over as they speak thus.

But a journey without a destination is not a journey—it’s pointless movement. Right. So we announce that there is no longer a point to anything and that becomes an article of the faith. We digitalize our vision in order to disavow any dangerous “point” to anything. And we move on, collecting “been there’s” and “done that’s”. Our luggage is plastered over with travel stickers, and we keep “moving” like Bobby Gentry’s crystal bird lost in perpetual flight because its crystal legs are broken.

Addicted to the active (mobile) voice, we assert that life is what we “do” and deny that it’s something that happens to us. Because it does have an end, a destination, and that end is death—and that must be denied at all costs, even our sanity.

 

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February 20th, 2014Mocking Godby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Saul prophesying at Ramah - David Martin (1639-1721)


Yesterday I wrote about Bad Theater and Bad Liturgy.

Today I'm wondering - how did we get here?  How did we get to a point where we allow offensive art to be spread around on the streets of our cities, streets where children and families walk?  How do we endure such ugliness and in-your-face assaults without taking sledge hammers to them?  How did we get to a point where we patronize shoddy dramas and applaud and congratulate lame actors and insipid playwrights?  Why don't we rear up and demand our money back?  Why do we put up with anti-Christian bishops, Pagan Education masquerading as Catholic Education, priests who are weird at best and pedophiles at worst? Why are we all joining in a great act of make-believe, pretending that the fecal matter we're served on a platter is a thick and juicy sirloin steak?

The same way we got to a point where the use of hard core internet pornography by married men and children is winked at.  The same way we got to a point where we all have to pretend as if anal sex between two men is a glorious and heroic thing, and that not applauding it is akin to racism.  The same way we got to a point where we all have to make believe that our economy is based on something other than usury, fraud and flim-flam.

If we are to be salt of the earth, we ain't doing our jobs.

***

Once there was a man like you or me.  He was king.  He had authority and power.  He was jealous of his authority and power.  He was jealous of others.  He was jealous, period.  He knew that God had given the crown to him, but doing things his way was much more important to him than doing things God's way.

So he ignored God and started to live for himself.

Therefore God took His Holy Spirit from him.

And he grew depressed and miserable and convinced that everyone had it better than he did, even though he was king.  And the one thing that made him more upset than anything was to see God's Holy Spirit at work in others.  The precious gift he had been given and which he had squandered was not only no longer his, but was the gift of others who appreciated it and thanked God for it, and that made him livid.

So he sent messengers to find David and kill him.

And the messengers who were sent found Samuel the Seer, who was sheltering David the True King. . And the messengers became prophets in the presence of the Prophet.  And he sent more messengers to the man of God, and they too became prophets.

And he himself went to do the job on his own and rid himself of the one whom God had favored.

And he, Saul, was struck by the Spirit and prophesied.

He tore off his clothes and lay naked on the ground all day and all night, prophesying in the presence of Samuel. The people who were watching exclaimed, "What? Is even Saul a prophet?" (1 Sam. 19:24)


A thousand years later, Jesus would tell a parable of the owner of a vineyard who sends messengers to collect rent from his tenant farmers.  The wicked tenants kill one group, then another, and even kill the son that the land-Lord sends.

***

What is the point of these two stories - the one from the history of Saul and David; the other a parable told by Jesus that seems to echo it?

I dare not plumb the depths of these stories, but one thing is for sure.

Mock God and pay the price.

Kill His messengers, murder His son in order that you may "seize on his inheritance" (see Mat. 21:33-46) and you'll find that you're permanently evicted, while those you have dispossessed become heirs of the Kingdom, "co-heirs" with the Son (Rom. 8:17).

Arrogate to yourself the power and authority that comes only from God (as each of us does every time we sin, and as Saul - like Herod - does when he persecutes the anointed one), and you'll find that in mocking God, you are mocked yourself, becoming an unwitting instrument of the very Spirit that you have chased from your own house.

***

  • I once worked at a family run restaurant where the oldest brother was a cocaine addict.  One night the police arrested him for running around naked in the suburbs in a psychotic state, knocking on people's doors and screaming at them.  His family bailed him out and the next day they put him to work as a bartender, dealing with alcohol and the general public.  And we were supposed to pretend that nothing unusual was going on.

  • I know a family who deals with the addiction of one of their members by systematically ignoring it and smoothing over all the rough edges and messes that result.

  • An older man I know married a woman who was much younger than he was, almost 30 years younger.  This impressed some people, but behind closed doors he paid the price.  Her self esteem was so ludicrously low that he had to stroke her in some manner every minute of every day, praising her for even ordinary and normal things that she did and overlooking everything about her that was annoying and stupid.  His trophy wife exacted a huge investment of time and energy on his part, and the two of them expected every one else to play along, to pretend as if this gold digging bimbo was as smart and clever and fascinating as the old man kept telling her she was.  They were an exhausting couple to be around.

  • I've known many young couples who deliberately put up blinders about one another, entering into marriages that were clearly wrong-headed and possibly doomed - and yet no one - not family, friends or clergy - pointed out the obvious.  "You know, this man is quite controlling and will make your life miserable" or "You both seem to be getting married because your parents want you to" or "He's far below the kind of man you could marry if you weren't so desperate to sell out and settle".  These things are never said.  People pretend as if everything is just fine.  And marriages happen and lives are ruined.

We live in a world of grade inflation, quantitative easing, and collective fictions like "gay marriage".  We live in a world with a Church that we allow not to be a Church and art that we allow to be ugly and vapid.  We live in a world where it's considered obscene to point out the elephant in the living room, but kind of funny that 12-year-old boys are masturbating to images of hard core pornography that only the most street wise and seedy perverts viewed fifty years ago.

And we think nothing of it.

We think we can catch the owner's son, throw him out of the vineyard, kill him and "seize on his inheritance", taking it for ourselves - cheating both the Son and the Father.

And cheating the Holy Spirit.  

We think we can snatch the Lord's anointed right out from under the gaze of the seer and laugh at the very Breath of God.  We can do this.  We're the king.  We can even cheat the Holy Spirit.

Until He breathes and walks within us and we find ourselves - even against our will - in a daze, naked and babbling, speaking His very words and prophesying.



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February 19th, 2014Tolkien the Evangelistby Joseph Pearce

Several people have written to me about a lecture on the web by a Catholic, a priest I believe, who attacks Tolkien's work and attacks me (apparently) for claiming that Tolkien's work is Catholic. I do not have the time or the inclination to listen to the lecture. I will, however, insist that it is Tolkien himself who claims that The Lord of the Rings is "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work". It is also Tolkien himself who states that his Catholic faith can be deduced from his work. My own works on the subject simply seek to show how the work is fundamentally Catholic and how such Catholicism can be deduced from the stories. 


I am also astonished by the claim made by this lecturer that nobody every converted because of The Lord of the Rings. I can state emphatically that Tolkien was a significant influence on my own conversion and I have met numerous other people who cite his influence on their conversion or his role in strengthening their faith. The most recent case of someone informing me of Tolkien's role in their conversion happened only two nights ago, in Memphis, after I had given a talk in the city.

As I've stated, I have no desire to listen to the lecture, nor do I intend to expend any more time responding to it. I will, however, point people to Fr. Dwight Longenecker's excellent post on the subject:  

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2014/02/was-tolkien-an-evangelist.html

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February 19th, 2014Saint Gilbert?by Joseph Pearce

Last Sunday was the feast of St. Gilbert of Sempringham, fonder of the Gilbertine Order. It is, however, the possible canonisation of another Gilbert, which has been animating much discussion over the past few months. The announcement by the Bishop of Northampton that he was authorizing the opening of the cause to consider Chesterton's possible beatification has caused a good deal of excitement and controversy. 

Last week I was interviewed by William Doino Jr. about Chesterton's role in my own conversion. Here's the link to his excellent article in First Things

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/02/chestertons-pursuit-of-holiness

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February 19th, 2014Bad Theater and Bad Liturgyby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

So I'm in Phoenix this week and I was forced to go to a luncheon performance of a play that I had no interest in seeing.  It was a One-Act for Black History Month.

That's right, a luncheon one-act for Black History Month.  

Yes, it was as awful as it sounds.

And it's downtown.  And the theater is surrounded by hideously ugly statues of naked people frolicking - totally naked men and women, doing a kind of queer "liturgical dance" with their breasts and butts and genitals flying in every direction and captured forever in stop action by the sculptor.

And the audience is a bunch of old folks.  And they all get box lunches.  And they sit around you and eat their sandwiches and chew their food, packed into a tiny studio theater, and you want to scream.

And some old gal comes out and warms up the audience.  And finishes with a stupid tap dance.  And it's embarrassing.  And the old folks, with their moldy tuna fish, sit there laughing.  We're packed in.

The show begins.  It is insipid, juvenile, but well-intentioned.  The entire plot revolves around an extremely superficial and shallow conflict between two characters that has nothing to do with anything of any importance.  It is poorly acted.  But the acting surpasses the dialogue, such as it is.  It's mostly not dialogue; it's mostly the characters addressing the audience directly and giving exposition.  When it is dialogue, you miss the stilted and awkward moments of exposition.  One of the gals is talented and should be in something better than this.

Because the play is stagey and shallow, it runs short.  An encore is presented that consists of the lead actor singing songs from the era in which the story took place.  He sings three standards to a karaoke track.  He hits all the notes but he has no talent.  Even the old ladies with the moldy tuna fish are getting bored - and it's songs from their day.

It finally ends, but before you can escape, there's a sit around and an "ask questions of the cast and playwright" session.  No one asks the only question I was thinking of, which is "How can you charge money for something like this?"

We are finally released.  As we pass out into the bright hot desert sun, the cast and playwright stand in a receiving line by the door, waiting for us to shake their hands and tell them how good they were - which all the old people, their breath stinking of moldy tuna fish, quite enthusiastically do.  I avoid any eye contact and exit.

Will anyone ever tell them that they're bad? In their whole careers, will anyone ever tell them the truth - that they're bad? I wonder, as I make my way past the ugly stone naked people in front of the Theater Arts Center, dancing and celebrating "art" - which right at this moment is the last thing I want to "celebrate".

***

Damn it, this is serious.

Theater is a venue for the depth of the human heart, a crucible for the human spirit, a portal to the divine.  It is not, therefore, that different from church.

And I usually feel as cheated at a suburban Mass as I did at this play.  The great and serious and vital thing is missing.  Christ may be on the altar, but no one knows who He is.  The gods may be behind the curtain, but we pay money to bad actors and playwrights and singers to keep them veiled.  We think soap operas are high art; we think stilted dialogue and superficial themes and one-dimensional characters are laudable.  We think liturgical dance and statues of ugly naked people celebrating their own mindless vanity are worthy of public approval.

We take God on our tongues and go about our business.  We walk into a darkened theater and come out into the sun more covered in gloom than before.  We do what we can to flee from the light.  For the light has come into the world and men prefer darkness to light, for our deed are evil.  And our art obscures; it no longer enlightens.

St. Paul once said of Jesus Christ,

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. - Col. 1:28

But we no longer proclaim, we never admonish (to admonish is politically incorrect, you know), and we never teach anyone with "wisdom" - which is a deep and scary thing.  And to be "fully mature in Christ"?  Come on.  I mean, come on.  How many priests or bishops or Protestant pastors would ever begin to take such a statement seriously?

For it's all puerile - it's all as far from maturity as you can get - the "worship", the ugly art, the hideous statues, the bad luncheon theater, the karaoke singing, the nonsense.

It's all puerile.

"Full maturity in Christ" is a long measure off from this.

***

Christ had forty days in the desert.  I have had about 40 hours.  But one was spent realizing that I'm far more serious about dramatic art and the Church than I care to admit.  It was a light and forgettable afternoon, but it was really no laughing matter.

Here are some photos I took on my hike up the mountain, with Phoenix in the distance.

The mountain from my dad's back yard.

 

 

Hiking up the mountain.

 

 

The suburbs below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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February 16th, 2014Answers to a Soul in Tormentby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The Minotaur

A correspondent has written me a long email that is a cry for help from the depths of doubt.

I will paraphrase some of what this correspondent wrote to me, and give here some of the answers I gave in the email.  I hope it helps those of you who may be in a similarly painful position.  

Please pray for this soul and for all those who are, in this modern age, similarly tormented.

***

Q. Nietzsche says that Christians are searching for comfort, not truth.  What if he's right?

A. Go with Nietzsche's quote.  Search for truth, not for peace or comfort.  If God is Truth, then peace will come with God and with Truth.  Don't seek the fruits, seek the source of the fruit.  And whatever peace Christ gives is certainly not the peace of this world, and certainly not the peace we expect.  So don't feel guilty about seeking the truth.  If God is Truth we have nothing to fear from seeking truth.  If he's not Truth, then we need to know that.  Seek truth.

Q. Christian Faith can seem so false.  And yet the love of those around me seems so real.

A.  Hang on to that.  Love is transcendent.  It is one of the things that gives the lie to materialism and selfishness and utilitarianism.  Love is real.  You know that.  Follow that trail.  Love others.  Realize when others love you.  That's the way out of your trap.

Q. C. S. Lewis Lewis said that some men called themselves Christians, and worshiped, but that they did not really worship God, but rather worshiped themselves and the idol they created for themselves. 

A. Yes, it takes a life time to shed our comfortable idols and see the real God.

Q. Faith can seem reasonable, but then at times it seems like make-believe.  And what the materialists and atheists say sometimes seems very reasonable.  Why should I believe in one but not the other?

A.  Faith is just the bridge between what we know (but not fully) and how we need to live without being tormented by doubt.  You could just as well doubt that the real world exists.  It would be perfectly logical and reasonable to doubt that.  Solipsism is irrefutable.  It takes faith to escape that trap.

Q. But how do we really know Christ rose from the dead?

A. The short answer is we don't - not fully.  We weren't there.  Nobody was.  In the same way, how do we know that you were born on the day your parents said you were?  You don't.  Not fully.  You were there, but not too many others were with you and you can't remember it.  It's Faith that bridges the gap in both cases.  It's how we function.  We assent to something that is worthy of belief - not because faith is a virtue, but because we go with what seems to be true.  We know, for example, that the materialists are wrong when they say that all is matter, because form and spirit and organization and meaning and transcendence are right before our eyes every moment of every day.  They need to exercise a great deal of faith to believe the lie that they believe, for they must filter out all the evidence to the contrary.

But what evidence is there to the contrary that Jesus rose from the dead?  None.  As to the evidence that supports it, we have the tremendous witness of the early martyrs and to the first eye witnesses.  Not only that, we experience spiritual resurrection all the time.  "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life" are about spiritual resurrection.  That part is valid.  It happens to people all around us.

As to physical resurrection from the dead, it is only impossible if there is no God and if He does not intervene in nature.  Even then, it's not impossible.  A materialist will tell you that if matter can die, matter can also spontaneously live.

So you can't disprove the resurrection, nor can you entirely prove it.  You treat it the way you do everything else that you know.  You say, "This seems true.  If it's true, then a whole vast puzzle begins to fit together.  If it's not true, then many things are left unexplained and make no sense.  Therefore, I make the leap of faith and assent to it."  We do that when we believe the earth is round, the sun will rise, and all that other stuff that we don't "know" for sure.

Q.  If there really is a God, why do I not have peace?

A. "My peace I give you.  Not as the world gives do I give unto you." - John 14:27.  The peace He will give you, and is giving you now, is not the peace you are expecting.  For one thing, He will root out the causes of your distress at their deepest level, and that is painful.  The peace He gives is a fruit, a result, and not a first step.

Q. I keep trying to repent of my sins, but I keep committing the same ones.  Why not just give up?  Why not just buy into the other morality that the materialists and atheists keep selling me?

A. As to your repentance, it's whatever sin you habitually give yourself to - that's what's getting in the way of your peace.  So repent.  Again and again, if you have to.  Your thorn in the flesh may be the cross you bear, this persistent sin (whatever it is), but He will eventually free you of it.  That's what He does.

As to their "other morality", it is certainly "other", but it is no "morality".  You know what's written in your heart, and so do they.  There is only one morality.

Q. If God really exists, why doesn't he show himself?

A.  He did.  He does.  Why does He demand faith and not give us certainty?  Because love operates out of free will.  If we were in a position where God's presence was undeniable to us - if He simply overwhelmed us with His existence, as He is more than capable of doing - then we would have no choice but to submit to Him and to love Him.  Free will would vanish.  We would be struck dumb and fear would dictate everything we did.  In the same way that a loud noise drowns out a quiet whisper, we'd be blinded by the light the way St. Paul was on the road to Damascus.  So He hides - but also reveals - and does a bit of both.  In the middle ground where we find ourselves, both convinced of God and yet doubting God - in that state of suspense and faltering action, there life is lived, there love operates and is exercised.

Q. Can people be selfless and yet do evil?  If that's the case, then why condemn the evil?  Why avoid what people call evil?  

A. Yes, man can be selfless and do evil.  Yes, we can make great sacrifices for false idols.  Yes, we can be "good" without our "goodness" being ordered to what is truly good.  Everything has some good in it, but if we serve a lesser good and deny a greater good - that's the definition of evil.  For instance, a man who is addicted to a sexual sin (as many of us are) is serving a good - the good of the orgasm, the good of the union he experiences with his partner, even if his partner is not his wife, and even if his partner is another man.  If there were no good in sodomy, for example, no one would engage in it.  Sanctification consists not in avoiding evil per se but in seeing what is truly good, seeing the built-in hierarchy of good, the form of goodness, the limitations of our behavior that we call the Law, and serving that greater good.  This why goodness always involves sacrifice and renunciation.  Serving a greater good means you must turn from the lesser good.  Telling the truth and suffering for it means you must renounce the lesser good of telling a lie and being comfortable because of it.

Q. Why is Christian Faith any better than the faith of Muslims or Mormons?  We criticize their faith and reject it - but what makes our faith any better than theirs?

A. Mormons and Muslims can indeed have great faith - but the question is faith in what?  Their faith is a virtue, but if their faith is misplaced, it is a wasted virtue.  How can you be sure that Christian faith is not a wasted virtue?  My answer: love one another.  That is the Only Real Commandment.  Love one another.  Then it will start to make sense and your doubts will torment you less and less.

Love is transcendent.  Follow that.  God is Love and God is Truth, Christians are told.  If that is true, then Love is Truth and Truth is Love.

You are obviously a very loving person.  Follow that thread.  That's Ariadne's thread.  It will get you out of the maze and away from the monstrous Minotaur.

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February 14th, 2014The Silence of the Lambsby Joseph Pearce

The broken heart of marriage leads to broken-hearted children ...

Here's my latest article for The Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/02/silence-lambs-marriage-debate.html

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What are your thoughts on the subject?