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

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

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

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

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

  R. McKay Stangler connects “Agrarianism and Christendom”.

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

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

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

  Ken Clark admires The Transfiguration by Raphael.

  James Bemis praises the movie, Tree of Wooden Clogs.

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

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

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

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

  Joshua Schulz reviews A Catechism for Business.

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

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

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

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

  New Poetry by Timothy Lusch and Leah Acosta

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

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December 18th, 2014Tolkien on EWTNby Joseph Pearce

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

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

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

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

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

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

These would make great Christmas gifts!

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 17th, 2014A Nod To Distributismby Kevin Kennelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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December 16th, 2014Class Reunions and Adventby Dena Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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



Here's something Flannery O'Connor said,

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


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

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



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

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

What-is is the Cross of Christ.

But what is what-is?

Here are three of many possible examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 9th, 2014Utopia versus Myopiaby Joseph Pearce

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

I could go on.

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

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

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

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

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

Let Him at your treasure.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

"Tell me about it."

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

"What's the woman's name?"

"Facebook."



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

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

"So what is the nature of the relationship?"

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

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

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

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

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

"You actually had actors as friends?"

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

"I see.  So this rage of yours ... "

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

"Oh, my."

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

"So ... "

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

"Continue."

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

"How did that go?"

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

"What?"

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

"But you really are all those things."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But getting back to Facebook ... "

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

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

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

"So, to use an analogy ... "

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

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

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

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


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


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



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

Which is madness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

As usual, Chesterton says it best:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

***

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

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



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

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

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

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



There is nothing cheaper than affection at a distance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

***

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


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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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


***

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

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




***

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

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


***

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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November 24th, 2014Cajun Chestertonby Joseph Pearce

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

Here's the link:

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

True story. It was Thanksgiving in 1991.  

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

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


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


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

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

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

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November 17th, 2014The Sacramental in Tolkienby Joseph Pearce

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

 

Here’s my brief response:

 

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

 

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

 

Tolkien’s Letters are an invaluable resource.

 

You should read the opening chapters of The Silmarillion.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


***

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think the best name for it is Inconsequentialism.  

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

They are finding that they are Inconsequential indeed.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Here is a link about this limited time offer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November 5th, 2014My Dear Weedrotby Edward Lawrence

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

  My Dear Weedrot,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your affectionate old uncle,

Nick

 

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

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November 5th, 2014Suffering, Addiction and Healing in The Lord of the Ringsby Joseph Pearce

A few weeks ago I gave a talk to the Catholic Medical Association in Nashville on "Suffering, Addiction and Healing in The Lord of the Rings". The video of the talk has now been posted on the CMA's website: 

http://vimeo.com/nashvillecma

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November 3rd, 2014The Son Rises in the Eastby Joseph Pearce

Sometimes, as Chesterton insisted, we need to stand on our heads in order to see things clearly for the first time. This is clearly the case with regard to the apparent setting of the sun of Christianity in the West and its apparent rising in the East. As the USA and Europe sink into the quagmire of secular fundamentalism and its debauchery, Orthodoxy is rising from the death of atheism in Russia:

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2014/10/22/russia-has-experienced-a-spiritual-resurrection/

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November 3rd, 2014Tolkien, Belloc and Political Forceby Joseph Pearce

There's a very interesting interview in Catholic World Report with Jay W. Richards, co-author of a new book examining Tolkien's political philosophy.

The interview and the book are for the most part very good and incisive. The only blot on the otherwise edifying intellectual landscape is the suggestion that Tolkien would not have agreed with Belloc's belief that some form of political "force", i.e. legal intervention, would be necessary to restore equity in the economy through the positive assistance of small businesses to gain and retain a place in the marketplace. Bizarrely, Richards cites the chapter from The Lord of the Rings entitled "The Scouring of the Shire" to buttress his claim that Tolkien would have opposed Belloc's Essay on the Restoration of Property. Richards makes the all too common and naive mistake of equating Belloc's political philosophy with socialism and then, having done so, states, quite correctly, that Tolkien was not a socialist. The fact is that Belloc opposed the way in which both socialism and globalist capitalism concentrate property into the hands of a privileged few, i.e. politicians and plutocrats. The answer to this injustice was to promote small businesses and to use the power of politics to do so. Such political intervention is not liked by free market libertarians who believe that it's better to have the world run by global corporations who have free rein (and reign) to use and abuse their economies of scale to exclude the vast majority of people from the market. 

And as for the suggestion that Belloc supported political intervention whereas Tolkien didn't, one wonders what Dr. Richards would call the force used by the hobbits upon their return to the Shire to restore agrarian sanity by exorcising both the dark satanic mills (capitalist industrialism) and political corruption (socialism). Is taking up arms against the usurpation of political power by an unrepresentative minority not the employment of force and political intervention?

Apart from this lapse into anarcho-libertarian nonsense, the interview is worth reading:

http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/3485/the_political_vision_of_jrr_tolkien.aspx

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November 3rd, 2014Mgr. Benson’s “Lord of the World”by Brendan D. King

I do enjoy Monsignor Benson's "Lord of the World", but there is one matter in it which deeply troubles me. It involves Fr. Percy Franklin successfully urging the Pope to ban all other Liturgies except the Latin Rite. 

At the time Lord of the World was written, the Eastern Catholic martyrs of the Red Terror and the Armenian Genocide were still in the future. Saint Josaphat of Polotsk and the 13 Martyrs of Pratulin were not, however. 

Despite their martyrdom, there was a viewpoint  held by many Latin Rite Catholics in Mgr. Benson's time that Eastern Rite Catholicism was "half-schismatic" and a "spiritual dead end." As a solution, they recommended, like Father Franklin, that all Eastern Catholics be forcibly transferred to the Latin Rite. Some, like Cardinal Walter Kasper, still hold this view.

Although this statement angers me, I cannot blame Mgr. Benson. His brother has written that his novels were always written very soon after Mgr. Benson first conceived of them. When one also considers the one year of seminary studies between Mgr. Benson's conversion and his ordination yo the Catholic priesthood, it is likely that he was never taught about certain matters.

What I still cannot understand, however, is how Mgr. Benson got away with such a statement at the time he wrote it. Pope St. Pius X most definitely did not agree with those who denigrated Eastern Catholicism.

In 1907, the year that LOTW was published, Pope Pius met with the Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan of Lvov and Halych and laid plans with him to erect an Eastern Catholic Underground Church in Tsarist Russia. 

The following year, in 1908, Pope Pius presided over the ceremonies to mark the  1,500th Feast Day of St. John Chrysostom. On this occasion, His Holiness personally addressed the assembled Eastern Catholic Hierarchs and called them the glory and the crown of the Universal Church.

Although I otherwise consider LOTW to be a literary masterpiece, I am rather curious as to how Mgr. Benson avoided a Vatican order to remove that passage. Had he received such an order and ignored it, LOTW would have landed swiftly on the Index of Forbidden Books.

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November 3rd, 2014It’s time again…by Dena Hunt

…to reclaim time, the last night of that silly business of daylight savings time. People made ironic remarks to each other all day about getting back the hour stolen from them last spring. But the most ironic thing about this little biannual banter is that there’s no such thing in the first place. There’s no such thing as time, calculable time. We made it up. It’s a very handy abstract device for setting clocks and keeping calendars, a way to divide hours from epochs, and quite necessary to live any sort of ordered life—but, actually, nonexistent.

This year we reclaim time on the eve of All Souls Day, a coincidence that might make us think a bit more deeply about divisions of time—one of the only two that matter (birth and death), along with the artificial ones of our own making.

We might think a bit about the strangeness of time, not so much that it passes, but that it doesn’t “pass” at all. History is prophecy; we see that in both prophecy and history if we look closely enough.

But we can’t understand these things—and so we wind clocks and write calendars, and imagine there is time, time marked off in nano increments that we believe we control by appointments and schedules and such. But somewhere in eternity most of us exist together with those souls for whom we will pray at tomorrow’s Mass. And maybe we would pray for All Souls with a bit more sincerity and earnestness if we knew that it is for our own souls we are praying.

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October 30th, 2014The Evidence for Shakespeare’s Catholicismby Joseph Pearce

I've received an e-mail from a student studying Theatre History who is doing a research project on Shakespeare's Catholicism. The student requested a list of books and essays offering evidence that Shakespeare was a believing Catholic.

My Response:

Regarding your question, you should check out the extensive five-page bibliography in my book, The Quest for Shakespeare. Books I would particularly recommend on Shakespeare's Catholicism (apart from my own three books on the topic!) are:

John Henry De Groot, The Shakespeares and "The Old Faith" (Real-View Books, 1995)

Carol Curt Enos, Shakespeare and the Catholic Religion (Dorrance Publishing, 2000)

Peter Milward S.J., The Catholicism of Shakespeare's Plays (Saint Austin Press, 1997)

Peter Milward S.J., Shakespeare the Papist (Sapientia Press, 2005)

Peter Milward S.J., Shakespeare's Religious Background (Indiana University Press, 1973)

Mutschmann and Wentersdorf, Shakespeare's and Catholicism (Sheed and Ward, 1952)

Richard Simpson, The Religion of Shakespeare (Burns and Oates, 1899)

Taylor and Beauregard, eds., Shakespeare and the Culture of Christianity in Early Modern England (Fordham University Press, 2003)

Ian Wilson, Shakespeare: The Evidence (St. Martin's Griffin, 1999)


For essays on Shakespeare's Catholicism, I would recommend any of the Ignatius Critical Editions of Shakespeare's plays and also the several issues of the St. Austin Review which have been published on a Shakespearean theme.

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October 29th, 2014Boorstin, Creativity, and Augustineby Daniel J. Heisey

While nine of his twenty-two books are still in print, albeit in paperback, Random House, under its Vintage imprint, has brought out a new hardcover edition of Daniel J. Boorstin’s The Creators.  Boorstin (1914-2004) was a master of clear, succinct prose that went to the heart of any subject he chose to study.  Among his many interests was the theology of history presented by Saint Augustine of Hippo.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, but reared in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Boorstin began his career as a lawyer, having studied at Harvard, Yale, and Oxford.  A Rhodes Scholar, he distinguished himself by being admitted to the bar both in America and in Britain.  He then taught for twenty-five years at the University of Chicago, and his professional life culminated with service as Librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987.  Between 1958 and 1973 wrote The Americans, a highly-acclaimed three-volume history of the United States.  In 1962 he wrote The Image, about the trend towards publicity and celebrity being dominant features in modern life.

The Creators (1992) is the second in another trilogy, the other volumes being The Discoverers (1983) and The Seekers (1998).  Each wide-ranging volume can stand on its own, however, and in nearly eight-hundred pages of text The Creators surveys such creative figures as Homer and Leonardo da Vinci, Confucius and Giuseppe Verdi.  At the end of August, 1992, in what it hailed as a “special double issue,” U. S. News and World Report devoted thirty pages to judicious excerpts from The Creators, lushly illustrated.  The magazine’s cover bore in letters three inches high the title The Creators and a color picture of Ludwig van Beethoven.

In October of that year rival Time magazine reviewed the book under the sniffy heading “Conventional Wisdom.”  While conceding that Boorstin “has a magisterial gift for summary and organization,” and that “some readers will doubtless find his guidance helpful,” it concluded that “The Creators is not the book it could have been.”  The reviewer had pointed out that although Boorstin’s book had a chapter on Charles Dickens, there was barely a mention of Anthony Trollope, and a chapter focusing on Johann Sebastian Bach but briefly referred to George Frideric Handel.

Boorstin’s obituary in The Economist noted the disciplined and reticent nature of a man chosen to be national librarian by the stolid, pipe-smoking Gerald Ford.  Always an early riser, Boorstin was busy each day clattering away on his old manual typewriter at four in the morning.  “Worshipping, as he did,” The Economist explained, “the original vigour of the American experiment, he often found modern America hard to take.”  It added, “In tweed jacket, glasses, and bow tie, he played the closeted [cloistered] academic to perfection; but his perception of his own times was acute.”  Especially in the early 1990s, he appeared on television news shows as the wise old man who could nevertheless stick to the point.

One of Boorstin’s literary heroes was Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), and at least once in his or her life, any English-speaking historian worthy of the name must read, ponder, and argue with Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Gibbon merits a chapter in The Creators, as do his eminent nineteenth-century American peers, William H. Prescott (1796-1859) and Francis Parkman (1823-1893).  Boorstin steeped himself in the writings of those three masters of the historian’s craft, and if one were to guess which American historians from the twentieth century will be read a hundred years from now, Boorstin would join a short list with David McCullough and Barbara W. Tuchman.

Even though Boorstin favored Bach to Handel and Dickens to Trollope, his was a generous spirit, not meaning to slight or snub.  The seventy chapters of The Creators are really essays, crisply conveying Boorstin’s enthusiasm for what he deemed the finest of human achievement.  Page after page, Boorstin described the glories and genius of human creativity, from the cave paintings at Altamira, Spain, and Lascaux, France, to Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings, from Stonehenge to Frank Lloyd Wright, from Gregorian chant to Igor Stravinsky.

All the while, Boorstin also paid tribute to great religious figures, including Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed.  Prominent among them stood Saint Augustine of Hippo.  Boorstin wrote that Saint Augustine “remains one of the most versatile and challenging thinkers in Western history.”  Given Boorstin’s long hours of re-reading Gibbon, no friend to the Church, as well as his own Jewish heritage, he nevertheless admired Augustine and his permeating influence on Western culture.

According to Boorstin, Augustine’s essential contribution to the ongoing intellectual conversation was teaching that time is linear, not cyclical.  Since at least the days of Hesiod, the ancient Greeks and Romans had believed that human nature and human history would languish forever after the demise of a long-lost Golden Age.  Like the perpetually recurring seasons of the year, time and again mankind faced the same dismal fates.  A brighter future free of this sad cycle was beyond ancient imagination.

“Christianity,” wrote Boorstin, “turning our eyes to the future, played a leading role in the discovery of our power to create.”  Boorstin noted that for Augustine, “the climactic event of the world was the coming of Christ.”  Since that event could never be repeated, Boorstin said that for Augustine, history “begins with the Creation and will end with the Last Judgment.”  In between, “every event is unique, and every soul follows its own destiny, to survive in Hell or in Heaven.”  History thus was not an ever-turning wheel of fortune but “a continuous unfolding of man’s mysterious capacities—for creation, for love of God, for joining the Eternal City,” meaning in this case not old Rome but the new Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation, the City of God in Heaven.

Boorstin therefore saw Augustine, especially in The City of God, revealing how the Christian message of Incarnation and Redemption “transported the classical Golden Age from the remote past into the remote but certain future.”  Mankind need no longer be resigned to life here on this weary old world being as good as it gets, the best having faded away long ago, but could welcome each new day as a gift, an opportunity to co-operate with God’s grace and creation.

 

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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October 29th, 2014Painter of the Popesby Joseph Pearce

I had the inestimable honour recently of interviewing the Russian artist, Igor Babailov, now resident in Nashville, who has painted official portraits of the last three popes, as well as celebrated portraits of George Washington, George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin and many others. Babailov, indubitably one of the greatest artists alive today, is a vociferous champion of realism and is critical of much of the nonsense in modern art. In short, he is a veritable breath of fresh air in a very stale environment!

 

The interview has just been published in the National Catholic Register: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/painter-of-the-popes/

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October 28th, 2014Light from the Dark Continentby Joseph Pearce

In the days of yore, the days of discovery, exploration and empire, Africa was known as the Dark Continent. Today, as the so-called developed world falls into shadow, the continent of Africa is becoming a beacon of light and a source of hope. From an EWTN program called "The Vocation Boom," this statistic:

African Catholic Seminarians

1950s - 2,000

1985 - 7,000

Today - 27,000

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October 28th, 2014R. H. Benson 1914 - 2014: A Tributeby Joseph Pearce

I have just received an e-mail from an Argentinian journalist writing an article to commemorate the centenary of the death of the great literary convert, R. H. Benson. He sent me some questions, the answers to which I thought would serve as a suitable tribute to Benson on the Ink Desk:

    

1. I have read an article written by you where you describe Benson as an unsung genius. Can you explain why do you see him like that?

 

I used this phrase in the light of the way that Benson has been largely neglected in the century since his death. During his own lifetime he was a hugely popular novelist, as well as being an excellent poet and a highly gifted preacher and spiritual mentor. The neglect of his legacy is unjust and has deprived posterity of his powerful and significant voice.

 

 

2. He was one of several literary converts of the beginning of the last century. How can you explain such phenomenom between those writers and specifically in Benson?

 

In my book Literary Converts I provide a history of the Catholic Literary Revival in England, which can be said to have had its roots in the Romanticism of Coleridge and Wordsworth and to have had its definitive birth, so to speak, with Newman's conversion in 1845. By the time of Benson's conversion sixty years later the Revival was in full swing. Benson's conversion was probably the most controversial in the whole history of the Revival, except for that of Newman himself, because he was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the leader of the worldwide Anglican communion. His conversion was seen, therefore, as portentous of the rise of Catholicism and the fall of Anglicanism.

 

 

3. Why do you consider that someone must read him today?

 

Several of Benson's novels have stood the test of time and deserve to be seen as classics of Christian fiction, especially his historical novels, Come Rack! Come Rope! and Richard Reynal, Solitary, and his futuristic dystopian thriller, Lord of the World, the last of which has been proved more correct in its dark prophecy of the rise of demonic secularism than later works in a similar genre, such as Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

 

 

4. In which of his multiple facets -as a writer, as an apologist, as a prophet...- do you think he specially stood out?

 

He deserves to be remembered primarily as one of the finest novelists of the twentieth century, though his significance as an apologist, prophet and poet should not be overlooked.

 

 

5. Beside his famous novel `Lord of the World', what other titles do you consider relevant as well?

 

As mentioned, his two historical novels, Come Rack! Come Rope! and Richard Reynal, Solitary, deserve a much wider readership. His own account of his conversion, Confessions of a Convert, is a powerful autobiographical account of a soul's journey to the goodness, truth and beauty of Christ and His Church in the spirit of St. Augustine's Confessions, which is equalled in perception and power only by Newman's masterful Apologia. It's a true classic of conversion literature, which will be an inspiration for anyone on the same path more than a century later.  

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October 23rd, 2014A New Catholic Literary Revivalby Joseph Pearce

Recent years have seen a significant increase in the quantity and quality of new Catholic fiction and poetry. This being so, it is gratifying to see that several new literature awards are being launched in response to this new Catholic literary revival. As Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College, I’m pleased to announce that we have initiated the Aquinas Award for Fiction, the first of which will be presented at a conference at Aquinas College in Nashville next autumn.

The Aquinas Award and several other awards are featured in this article, just published in the National Catholic Register:

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/trend-of-cash-prizes-gives-major-boost-for-modern-catholic-literature#When:2014-10-23%2017:40:01

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October 22nd, 2014Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex - oh, and Loveby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



Most modern people don't think highly enough of sex.

That sounds crazy, but let me explain.

One of my regular readers gets regularly mad at me when I make the analogy between adultery and "gay sex".  Her point is that a sexual orientation is something you just can't help, and it defines who you are, and it has nothing to do with sin.  She rejects the Catholic teaching that a homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered and should be resisted with the virtue of chastity.

But, interestingly, when Facebook friend Mark S. Schmittle posted this comment ...

Chastity IS sexuality - the proper expression of sexuality, either in marriage, virginity or celibacy. The peace, joy, and love that result from a chaste life had to explained and promoted as the only true alternative to unchastity which brings tragedy, poverty, chaos, mistrust, and the objectification of human beings as things to satisfy our passions


... she replied ...

Gosh Mark - you're kind of right. I never saw it stated like that before - but you're right.


So it occurred to me that my blog posts are written to an audience that I assume is well grounded in Catholic moral theology.  But maybe it's a good idea to take a step back and try to explain the sort of stuff I've been taking for granted for a long time now, since not all of you are as steeped in this as I am, and explain how only the Catholic Church really gives a damn about sex these days.

***

First of all, though it's incredible that it needs to be pointed out to people, sex has a purpose.  What could that purpose be?  Hmmm.  I wonder.  Gosh, could it be making babies?  And also (considering our emotions and our souls) the expression of a total giving of one person to another?

Most moderns today reject the obvious and blatant purpose of sex.  Having been infected with a kind of spiritual Ebola that is more contagious than the real Ebola, modern people have adopted the most bizarre of all bizarre religious beliefs, and one that's based not only on blind faith, but on a faith that's devoted to blindness - the belief that there is no such thing as function, purpose, meaning or design anywhere in the universe.

So therefore a penis may go into a butt-hole.  No big deal.  It's not designed to go anywhere else, is it?  The anus is not designed for defecation, and the penis not designed for urination and procreation.  No way.  We can make use of our bodies in any way we want.  We could even eat through our noses if we wanted to, because the nose is not necessarily made to smell.  It could inhale and ingest yogurt and cream cheese, if we wanted it to.  Stop being so judgmental!

And if you believe in the sacrifice of reason to blind faith, you can swallow the modern denial of purpose and design.  But yet once you've made that sacrifice, you are unable to see the obvious fact (which is not even a conclusion, but a simple observation) that any use of the sexual organs outside of their design is "disordered".  "Sin" is simply a disorder - seeking a good in the wrong way or in the wrong amount or under the wrong circumstances.  "Sin" is what we call the rebellion against the Order that gives us peace.

But maybe these devotees of the Modern Faith of Purposelessness, if they can't admit to a biological design can admit to a psychological one.  In fact, they do.  They push it.  They might be reluctant to admit that any kind of sex is OK at any time, but they will argue that sex between two (or more) people who "love" one another is fine, if the sex is an expression of love, even if it involves anal intercourse (though they don't like to use that term, as it's clearly not the most ideal expression of "love" and it makes even them a bit squeamish).

But here we must celebrate, at last, a common cause.  We admit that sex is not just for making babies, but is also for expressing love - it's just that the only definition of "love" that makes sense is the definition that has grown out of that event that happened on Calvary 2,000 years ago.

Love is sacrifice: it is the complete and total self-giving of one person for the good of the other.  It is an act that involves the full engagement of our entire being - heart, mind, body and soul - and every aspect of our intelligence and will.

The most clear manifestation of love in the world is therefore marriage and the family.  Celibacy and devotion to God through consecrated virginity and the priesthood or religious life is another expression of love, but that is the exception.  The ordinary and most clear manifestation of love is the lifelong commitment of one spouse to another, a living sacrifice that creates a bunch of kids, arguing siblings, Christmas dinners, annoying in-laws.

And even within the miraculous circle of this everyday thing, the family, chastity is the virtue that prevents sex, even within the confines of marriage, from becoming lust.

Lust is the objectification of one person by another, the use of another person as an object.  Lust is the opposite of love.  We therefore guard against it with the virtue of chastity not because sex is bad but because it's good - it's so good that we must keep it from becoming what we know it always tends to become if we let it - a monster that devours, rather than a gift that gives.

Anyway, this is all a part of the "seamless garment", the unified teaching of Christ that the Church continues to pass on (sometimes in spite of herself, and in spite of the desires of her bishops, popes and cardinals).  There's much more to be said, such as marriage prefiguring the Second Coming of Christ to His bride the Church, as well as admitting that homosexuals can clearly love one another, and love one another deeply, while recognizing that they can't express that love in a disordered way, by indulging in an act that degrades them if they abrogate it to themselves for a selfish purpose, when it is made for something other and something greater.  But I've said enough, and I'm certain that every single thing I said will be misunderstood, so I might as well shut up.

Except to say - only the Catholic Church thinks enough of sex to insist that it can only be the expression of full and sacrificial love between a husband and a wife who have given themselves to one another completely and for life, a gift of body and soul, of flesh and spirit, a gift that makes more life, little babies, new people, a gift that lifts us to our highest plane physically on this earth, a gift that gives a foretaste of the ecstasy that the cross entails.

Only the Catholic Church really cares about sex.

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October 22nd, 2014Great Talks by Ralph Wood on Lewis and Tolkienby Joseph Pearce

Last night I had the honour and pleasure to give a talk here in Nashville to members of the Catholic Medical Association on the theme of “Suffering, Addiction and Healing in The Lord of the Rings”. I was told that I was following in the footsteps of the wonderful and inestimable Ralph C. Wood who had spoken several months earlier on C. S. Lewis to the same group. During his visit he also spoke at Aquinas College on The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately Dr. Wood’s visit preceded my own arrival at Aquinas College so we weren’t destined to meet on this occasion. The last time I met Professor Wood, whose work I greatly admire, was at the national Chesterton Conference in Reno, Nevada two years ago.

My disappointment at missing Dr. Wood’s talks was mitigated by the fact that all three of the talks that he gave during his visit to Nashville were videoed and have been uploaded to the Catholic Medical Association’s website. This being so, I thought I’d share them with visitors to the Ink Desk:

http://www.nashvillecma.org/cma_web_documents_016.htm

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October 22nd, 2014Marriage, Divorce and the Modern Mindby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article over the weekend that examines the case of a divorced couple, with the ex-husband seeking an annulment over the ex-wife's objections.

The ex-wife, a Protestant, is not at all bothered that her husband divorced her and "re-married", contrary to the clear teachings of Jesus Christ.  The thought of renouncing the vows you make to the person you promise to love for the rest of your life is apparently no big deal (by the way, for each of them it was their second marriage).  What bothers this woman is the thought that her second marriage "never happened".

Her argument seems to be, "We promised to love each other and remain together until the day we died, and that was a valid promise, dammit! even though we've both broken that promise and are sleeping with other people (and I'm fine with that) - other people that we're promising to love and live with for the rest of our lives (as we did our first spouses).  Anyway, all of that breaking of vows and lifting your leg and pissing on marriage is no big deal.  What bothers me is if some jack ass in the Catholic Church is going to tell me that the marriage that we both desecrated by breaking our vows and moving on to other people never happened!  It sure the hell did, which is why we both walked away from it!"

Welcome to the modern world.



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October 22nd, 2014Here it is…by Dena Hunt

About two years ago, I posted a suggestion that the Church get out of the marriage business as soon as possible. I proposed that it’s actually a violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state that clerics of any sort should have the authority to perform legally binding ceremonies, which are actually a function of government and not of religion. (The emphasis here is on “legal,” not on “marriage.”) Couples could have a religious ceremony if they want one and if the clergyman is willing to perform it, but the clergyman should not have any legal authority to make such a ceremony binding in any way. All couples would have to enter into a government-composed binding contract in order to be legally married.

I remember that a couple of comments were appalled by the idea that the Church should surrender any influence at all on public civil life.  Here’s the reason:

 http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/christian-ministers-told-to-perform-gay-weddings-or-face-jail-time-74865/

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October 22nd, 2014Arguing with G. K. Chestertonby Joseph Pearce

Having had the foolhardy audacity last week to argue with C. S. Lewis about “love”, I have picked a fight this week with another giant, G. K. Chesterton, this time about the “common man”.

Watch the fight here:  

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/10/vulgar-mob-arguing-g-k-chesterton.html#more-51601

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October 20th, 2014Tolkien on Lewis’s Christianityby Joseph Pearce

I write from Nashville, where I’m currently teaching my class on “Modern Christian Writers”. Today we were tackling Chesterton’s Man Who was Thursday. Returning to my office from the classroom, I came across an e-mail in my in-box enquiring about Tolkien’s attitude to Lewis’s conversion to Anglicanism. The exact wording of the e-mail is given below. My brief response follows.

 

The e-mail

I have a friend that asked a question that I wondered if you had an answer to? If not, that's okay.

Tolkien's reaction to CSL's *not* becoming a Catholic when he converted. Can you point me to any resources, please? Thanks!

My response: 

The obvious and fullest answer I can give is to suggest that your friend purchases my book, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (Saint Benedict Press), which covers Tolkien’s views on Lewis’s religious position in some depth.

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October 18th, 2014On St. Luke’s Feastby Dena Hunt

I’ve heard that St. Luke’s Gospel is the favorite of women. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s my favorite and I’m a woman. Men prefer St. John’s, so I’ve been told, which might be a little surprising, since St. John’s is called the “poetic” Gospel.

I never knew why I liked St. Luke’s best, but one minor bit of obscure history may help a little to explain it. The testimony of women is notably absent in the New Testament. That’s because the women’s testimony was never permitted – never deemed credible – in the Jewish society of Jesus’ time. It may be noted that Mary Magdalen’s testimony that Jesus was risen, that she had seen him and spoken with him, was disbelieved by the apostles, still in hiding, on that Easter morning.

Jewish men didn’t take seriously anything a woman might have to say. Even my beloved St. Joseph apparently required angelic confirmation of the cause of Mary’s pregnancy; her word was perhaps not enough.

St. Luke, however, was a Greek. And maybe because he was not a Jew like the other Gospel writers, he felt free to believe the testimony of a woman. Hence, we have the story of the Anunciation, the Nativity, the Visitation and St. John the Baptist’s birth; also, the Presentation and the Finding in the temple—all of which could only have come from Mary. None of this is to be found in the other Gospels. Were it not for a Greek’s willingness to take a woman at her word, we’d never know about Gabriel, we’d never know about the Incarnation of God’s Son..

I always feel a paternal influence from my beloved St. Joseph (also the name of my grandfather, Joseph Hunt, who died when I was three), but I have great affection for St. Luke, who would have had the courage to believe me, a woman.  

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October 18th, 2014Approaching what is Real: Don Quixote, God, and the Rest of Usby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org


For they had bartered the reality of God for what is unreal, and had offered divine honors and religious service to created things, rather than to the Creator--He who is for ever blessed. Amen. (Rom. 1:25)


As we drive around the country performing murder mystery dinner theater shows, my actress Maria Romine and I listen to audio books.  We've lately been listening to Don Quixote, the unabridged version, read very well by George Guidall.

It's a 40 hour long production, and we're only about five hours into it.  But we're listening to parts that I've never read (my printed version is abridged).

We've come to the "pastoral interlude" where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are spending time with some shepherds.  We are beginning to learn that Don Quixote is not the only madman who's a bit too idealistic for his own good.  While Don Quixote has been inspired to become a knight errant, a group of well-fed suburban yuppies have been inspired to become shepherds and live out a kind of pastoral romance while not at the shopping mall.

In this interlude, we hear Don Quixote wax eloquently on the "golden age", a mythical era of chivalry that sounds as if it is set in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.  Then we hear one of the yuppies who's living as a shepherd wax eloquently on his "lady", the disdainful woman he's pursuing, whose scorning of him leads literally to his death.  We also hear from the pursued lady herself, and while Don Quixote bravely rushes to her defense, her own idealism - a kind of haughty virginity, a sort of smug isolationism - is as strained as the rather contrived love of the yuppie shepherds who dote on her.  Their romance is not quite love and her celibacy is not quite purity.

And that's the way we often are, even when we're at our best.  The reason this novel is brilliant is that it examines the complexities of idealism and cynicism.  Don Quixote, the yuppies, their lady - all are really quite mad in a way, and yet all are following ideals - ideals that they can't quite seem to make work in the real world.  (Kind of like all of us!)  And somehow everyone around them gets sucked in to the yarns they're spinning - and yet this is not entirely a bad thing.

What does this have to do with the Faith?

I write a lot on about Unreality.  This is my word for our proclivity to live a lie, a comfortable and apparently controllable lie, rather than living the truth.  We know what it means to "get real" with someone; getting "unreal" is just the opposite.  Unreality is marked by things that are contrived, artificial, and somehow dishonest or untrue.  Examples are Oregon Catholic Press music at Mass, bad art and architecture in the churches, the extremely artificial and contrived weirdness of "Christian Courtship", the false camaraderie of certain groups, cheesy literature and drama (such as Hallmark movies and certain self-consciously Christian films) - and also so much of what we see in the secular culture, especially our favorite fantasy that sex and gender are whatever we choose to make of them, our insane insistence that sex has no correspondence with nature or with reality - and our illusion that meaning has no correspondence with life, that meaning is imposed on life, not discovered in life, etc.

This is all dreadful stuff.  And in a way, Unreality is simply a word for sin.  Indeed, the Laws of Morality and Faith that God has revealed to us are simply the roadmap to Reality (and Heaven) and the Commandments are the "Do Not Enter" signs to prevent us from taking the road to Unreality (and Hell).

Adultery, for instance, is an example of an act that's dripping with Unreality and that always, somehow, leaves a bit of Hell in its wake.  Love and sex between a man and a woman are designed in such a way that sacramental fidelity and self-sacrifice over the long haul bring untold contentment as well as new life.  Fidelity leads to Reality (and, in a way, to Heaven) because God has made Fidelity at the heart of what is Real.  Therefore cheating, though fun, will end up in shipwreck and misery (in other words, Hell) - for someone, at least, is bound to suffer the consequences of the Unreal - even if it's the innocent children who are caught up in it all.  In other words, something like adultery is our way of denying the way things are actually made (Reality) and asserting our own fantasy against it (Unreality), and the pain we suffer (the Consequential) is simply the symptom that we've been doing things wrong, going the wrong way down a one-way street.  God's "judgment" is simply the consequence of denying the Truth and Living a Lie.  Unreality is always, then, a form of sin; and sin is always an assertion of a kind of Unreality.

But, as the book Don Quixote shows us, we are made to spin yarns and to imagine great things that never were, like the golden age of chivalry.  If we were all "realists" or cynics, we would all be materialists and atheists, for it takes a kind of poetic vision to see the reality of God and of His Kingdom.  Our capacity for Unreality may be the misuse of our creative and imaginative function - but without that capacity, we would not be able to apprehend the image of God: not because God is Unreal (He is, on the contrary, the source of all that is most Real), but because our imaginative function is our spiritual "nose" as it were, our ability to sense that which is beyond the immediate.

Fiction is made to lead us to Fact.  But as fallen men, we often misuse our fictive function, for we'd rather become gods than serve one.

Indeed, we often misuse the three major gifts that God has given us that separate us from the beasts - Will, Reason and Imagination.  This trinity of gifts - Will, Reason and Imagination (by the term "Imagination" I mean to include what Tolkien calls "sub-creation") - this trinity of gifts corresponds with the trinity of reality: the Good, the True and the Beautiful.  It is the business of our Will to conform what we do to what is Good; it is the business of our Reason to conform what we think and understand to what is True; and it is the business of our Imagination to conform what we dream and desire and make to what is Beautiful.  All three functions support each other, since the objects toward which they are designed are inextricably interconnected.  What is True is always Good, what is Good is always Beautiful, what is Beautiful is always an aspect of what is True, etc.  We are not ourselves designed to negate this design.  We are not made to use our Will to assert ourselves against the nature of morality, nor are we made to use our Reason to misunderstand the truth that surrounds us, nor are we made to use our imaginations to invent things to fulfill the desires of our hearts that are merely shortcuts or sops, things that give us passing pleasure but that are untrue, unreal.  God gives us these gifts - Free Will, Reason and Imagination - to be ordered to Him - for even though we may misuse them, without them we cannot truly serve Him.

So let me sum this up by speaking in a quixotic manner - and I think, perhaps, I am speaking for many of you.

Sometimes in pursuing my most ardent ideals, I find that I am merely tilting at windmills - or worse, I am hurting others by holding them to the impossible standards that I myself cherish, but that I myself fall shy of, too.  In addition, I waver between cynicism and idealism.  I am often tempted to see my steed as a broken down nag, my lady as the more or less compromised streetwalker that she is, my daily devotion to theater as the rather sordid performances in wineries for drunks and rednecks that these performances often are; or vice-versa, I see in my broken down nag the steed she really is; I see within the streetwalker a hidden lady of dignity and glory, and I see in my drunken audiences immortal souls being lifted up in laughter, being raised for a moment a slight bit closer to the One who made them.  And somehow all of this is true - the dreary reality on the surface and the stunning Reality behind and within it.

And so we pray

Dear God, may we always long for You as the hart longs for water (Ps. 42:1), seeing in You the source of the living water for which we truly thirst (John 4:10).  Do not let us fill ourselves with that which is unreal and which will not sustain us.  Show us our sins that we may repent of them and turn toward You.  Give us the grace "to turn from these unreal things, to worship the ever-living God" (Acts 14:15) - for thy Kingdom is always more real than the false and haughty man-made towers we build (Gen. 11:1-9).  Purify our Will to do what is Good, our Reason to see what is True, and our Imagination to desire what is Beautiful and holy.  And always remind us that the world we are tempted to love too much is also a bit less than fully real, that all of creation is but a "shadow of the things that are to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Col. 2:17).


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October 16th, 2014Hobbit-Sized Saxonsby Joseph Pearce

A friend of mine in England has just started a hobbit-sized business making miniature figures of Anglo-Saxon warriors. Tolkien would certainly approve! If you're able to support this noble venture by starting your own miniature army of warriors, please do so!

http://saxonminiatures.com/

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October 16th, 2014Sausage-Making at the Synodby Kevin Kennelly

It has been described as the most embarrassing document in the history of the Catholic Church. We refer to the ....words fail....disastrous , tragicomic "Relatio" released by Francis' synod. Three interpretations present themselves: a) by the modernists - the liberal view of things has triumphed . Get on board or be left behind by HISTORY. Homosexual relationships can be a "gift;" b) by real Catholics - the document is ipso facto corrupt, a historical slap in the face to all good Catholics in what is the previously civilized Judeo Christian civilization. And "c" wherein Father Robert Barron of "Catholicism" ( the TV series) fame says "....take a deep breath." Have a sense of historical perspective , read the whole document and have faith that the whole thing will play out in a productive way. It is a given that Catholic moral theology is a form of three dimensional chess ....not checkers.....but the angst remains. Oremus pro invicem.

http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2014/10/15/sausage-making_at_the_synod.html

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October 15th, 2014Chesterton On Demandby Joseph Pearce

I've just received news of an exciting development from the American Chesterton Society. All of the lectures from the 2013 Conference held at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, are now available on-line. These include talks by Dale Ahlquist, Peter Kreeft, Yours Truly and many others.

For more details: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/acs2013/107585826

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October 15th, 2014“American Literature and Christian Faith”by Joseph Pearce

Preview of the Next Issue of the St. Austin Review

The November/December issue is on the theme of “American Literature and Christian Faith”.

Featuring Articles on Herman Melville, Henry James, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Jack Kerouac, Walker Percy , and Raymond Carver.

Hannah De Rocher locates “The Desire for Place in the Great American Novel”.

Ken Colston surveys “the Catholic Aesthetic and Marian Heroism” in Henry James.

Edward Mulholland sees “Celibate Friendship in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop”.

Helaine L. Smith converses with her students on “Reader Sympathy and Christian Redemption in Flannery O’Connor”.

Victoria Nelson takes the “Dark Journey into Light: On the Road with Jack Kerouac”.

Stephen Mirarchi finds “Humility, Obedience, and Communion” in “Raymond Carver’s Religious Revisions”.

John Beaumont celebrates “Walker Percy: A Great American Literary Convert”.

Susan Treacy marks the meeting of “Herman Melville, Benjamin Britten, and Billy Budd”.

Kevin O’Brien praises “Fervor against Phonies” as he travels “From Fiction to Non-Fiction to Pulp Fiction”.

Fr. Benedict Kiely meditates on Chesterton’s “Home Behind Home for which we are all homesick”.

Donald DeMarco admires “The Unifying Power of Beauty”.

James Bemis fails to admire the film Francesco.

Ken Colston reviews Hemingway’s Dark Night: Catholic Influences and Intertextualities in the Work of Ernest Hemingway.

Lorraine V. Murray reviews Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal.

Alan Brown reviews Missionary Bishop: Jean Marie Odin in Galveston and New Orleans.

Lori Kelly waxes lyrical on Caravaggio’s Incredulity of Saint Thomas.

New Poetry by Catharine S. Brosman, Pavel Chichikov, Daniel Janeiro and Philip C. Kolin. 

Subscribe Today! http://www.staustinreview.com/star/subscribe

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October 15th, 2014William Baer on the Craft of Verseby Brendan D. King

The following selections are from "Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms" by William Baer. Writer's Digest Books, 2006.

"What Distinguishes Poetry from Prose."

Pages 3-4,

By William Baer.

 

1). Emphasis on the Line.

Poetry emphasises the line over the sentence, and this is immediately clear when we observe its placement on the page. The lines of poetry seldom extend to the right hand margin. While the sentences of prose naturally flow naturally flow into visual blocks or paragraphs, the poetic line is more focused, intense, and unique. This seemingly small but fundamental difference creates enormous potential for the poet.

 

2). Emphasis on Rhythm.

Although creative prose can be highly melodic, poetry is rhythm. In most great poetry -- in various languages and metrical systems -- this sonic quality is enhanced by an underlying etrical rhythm. Even modern writers of non-metrical poetry (vers libre) work extremely hard to create melodic motifs n their poetic writings.

 

3). Emphasis on Compression.

The compressed nature of poetry is, of course, the most debatable of the three differences, since some prose can be very, "tight," and some poetry can be rather wordy (prolix). But, in general, the language of poetry is more specific and compressed than prose. and even the most verbose epic or the densest of blank verse passages are still constrained by the limits of the line and its underlying rhythm.

 "Scansion."

Excerpted from "Writing Metrical Verse," pages 19, 23-24.

 The method of determining the meter of a poem is called "scansion." This is done rather simply by marking the accents, recognizing the metrical feet, and counting the feet.

 1). Always do the Polysyllabic Words First.

The accents in each and every English word are immutable. The four-example word, "America," for example, will always have an accent on its second and fourth syllables. Thus, the beginning scanner can simply check the dictionary for the accents of any English polysyllabic word.

 

2). Identify the Normally Unaccented Monosyllabic Words.

In English, many of our most common and useful words are generally unstressed. These include the personal pronouns (I, me, we, they, he, she, it, her, his), the small conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, yet), forms of the verb, "to be," (is, are, was, were); the articles (a, an, the); and the simple prepositions (to, in, by, on, for, of).

 

3). Be Wary of the Poem's First Foot.

Sometimes, for effect, poets will substitute in the first foot of their poems, so be careful.

 

4). Once You Establish a Pattern, Use It.

If the poem seems to be written in iambic tetrameter, for example, see if it continues that way. It probably will.

 

"Ten Things to Consider in Evaluating a Poem."

Excerpted from, "Writing Metrical Verse," page 61-63.

 

1) Is it Interesting?

Is it memorable? This is where the fundamental worth of the poem begins; and, as Pulitzer-winner W.D. Snodgrass once pointed out: "If my poems aren't interesting, then why should anyone want to read them?"

 

2). Is the Poem Melodic?

Is the meter correct and appropriate? Do the substitutions and enjambments and feminine endings enhance the poem?

 

3) Does the Poem Say Anything?

Does it have some depth? Does it express something unique or thought provoking? Does it communicate its intentions clearly, or is it damaged by unwarranted ambiguity?

 

4). Is the Poem's Point of View Appropriate?

Sometimes a poem can be instantly improved by using another point of view -- either by changing the perspective of another character or by simply shifting to a different grammatical person. Effective poems have been written from every point of view; I, we, he, she, they, and even you. In recent times, in the wake of so much confessional poetry, many newer poets assume that the first person is always the most appropriate perspective, but in many cases, the third person he or she can create an effective distance that gives unexpected power to the poem's observations.

 

5). Does the Poem Have Specificity?

Ezra Pound rightly warned, "Go in fear of abstractions." This is not to say that poets should not write about love and courage and faith, but they should do so with a specificity of image and language. Otherwise, the reader will quickly get bored with all the generalization. The old adage of, "Show, don't tell," is a very helpful guidline. Don't let your poems go on about love in the abstract; rather, let them signify that love with specifics: a memory, an incident, an object, a spoken remark.

 

6). Does the Poem have Power or Beauty or Both?

These two concepts, sometimes foolishly disparaged in the 20th century, are at the very heart of the poet experience.

 

7). Is the Poem Marred by Easy Cliches and Old Fashioned Diction?

 

8). Is the Poem's Syntax Convoluted to Conform to the Meter?

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October 15th, 2014The Decline and Fall at 250by Daniel J. Heisey

If, as Alfred North Whitehead said, the European philosophical tradition is but a series of footnotes to Plato, all of history about Rome is but footnotes to Gibbon.  From the time the first of the six volumes of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire rolled off the press (in 1776) until now, historians writing about the Roman Empire have had to take into account that smug, pudgy, eloquent little man’s version of ancient people and events.

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) first got the idea for writing about the demise of Rome and her empire on the evening of 15 October, 1764.  Seldom can we date so precisely the origins of a great work of literature.  For along with being a great history, Gibbon’s most famous book is also a classic of English prose.

On that fine evening 250 years ago, Gibbon was in Rome, sitting on the steps of a Catholic church, Santa Maria in Aracoeli.  He heard Franciscan friars chanting Vespers, and he thought about how the magnificent structures of the Caesars were now in ruins while in their place were Christian churches.  Long interested in history, he saw that here was a story worth telling.

Ten years after his life-changing visit to Rome, Gibbon became a member of the House of Commons, and during his nine years there, he kept silent and listened to the debates, especially regarding the problems posed by the British colonies south of Canada.  The course of human events involving the king, the parliament, and the people gave Gibbon another perspective on Roman history.

At the beginning of Chapter 3 of the Decline and Fall, Gibbon observed:  “The obvious definition of a monarchy seems to be that of a state in which a single person, by whatsoever name he may be distinguished, is entrusted with the execution of the laws, the management of the revenue, and the command of the army.”  After all, monarchy means rule by one person.  “But unless,” Gibbon continued, “public liberty is protected by intrepid and vigilant guardians, the authority of so formidable a magistrate will soon degenerate into despotism.”  Thus far, Edmund Burke or John Adams would agree.

Then Gibbon claimed, “The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people.”  We will return to this critique.

Gibbon correctly saw only one safeguard against a monarch becoming a despot:  “A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince.”  A few paragraphs later he noted, “The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive.”

Gibbon’s critique of Christians, especially the clergy, recurs throughout his history.  In Chapter 16, he wrote:  “History, which undertakes to record the transactions of the past, for the instruction of future ages, would ill deserve that honourable office if she condescended to plead the cause of tyrants, or to justify the maxims of persecution.”  True enough, and he then declared:  “It must, however, be acknowledged that the conduct of the emperors who appeared the least favourable to the primitive church is by no means so criminal as that of modern sovereigns who have employed the arm of violence and terror against the religious opinions of any part of their subjects.”  One assumes he meant Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.For Gibbon, history was grim entertainment.  In Chapter 3 he defined history as “little more than the register of the crime, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.”  As an Anglican who had converted to Catholicism and then left behind Christianity altogether, Gibbon deemed the most heinous of those crimes, follies, and misfortunes to have occurred at the behest of Christians, especially priests and bishops.

At the end of Chapter 38, Gibbon summed up his subject by saying, “the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness.”  The Empire had grown to be too big.  Meanwhile, according to Gibbon, Rome’s martial and manly heritage had been drained and weakened by Christianity, whereby “the active virtues of society were discouraged” and “the sacred indolence of monks was devoutly embraced by a servile and effeminate age.”

A former soldier as well as a politician, Gibbon saw himself also as a philosopher, a lover of wisdom.  In Chapter 38 he suggested modern application of the lessons deriving from Rome’s decline and fall.  “It is the duty of a patriot,” he wrote, “to prefer and promote the exclusive interest and glory of his native country:  but a philosopher may be permitted to enlarge his views, and to consider Europe as one great republic, whose inhabitants have attained almost the same level of politeness and cultivation” as had ancient Rome.

“The savage nations of the globe,” he wrote, “are the common enemies of civilised society,” and for Gibbon savagery and religious fanaticism rode together.  “Should the victorious barbarians” of his day, Gibbon predicted, “carry slavery and desolation as far as the Atlantic Ocean, ten thousand vessels would transport beyond their pursuit the remains of civilised society; and Europe would revive and flourish in the American world, which is already filled with her colonies and institutions.”

Near the end of Chapter 71, the last chapter of his great work, Gibbon surveyed the sorry state of eighteenth-century Rome, edifices such as the Colosseum in ruins because Renaissance Popes had quarried them for their palazzi.  An honest man, Gibbon noted the efforts at historical preservation undertaken “by the most liberal of the pontiffs,” Benedict XIV.  Gibbon added as an aside, “For myself, it is my wish to depart in charity with all mankind, nor am I willing in these last moments, to offend even the pope and clergy of Rome.”  It is a pity he chose not to do so for the previous seventy chapters.

 

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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October 14th, 2014Four Ways G. K. Chesterton Engaged His Culture and Why He Still Matters Todayby Kevin Kennelly

A big question presently on the floor is how Christians should or could engage the modern culture which has become wrong headed, vulgar and virulently if subtly anti Christian. The Christian roots of western civilization have pretty much rotted away. An Evangelical friend , upon returning from Sweden once said to me that over  there .....should you mention Moses .....there is more chance that minds would direct to Moses Malone , the professional basketball player , than to the Moses of the bible. And post Christian Europe is slouching toward us. 

In " Four Ways G K Chesterton Engaged His Culture And Why He Still Matters Today," Chesterton is shown to be a force of nature taking on the question of how to respond to the stuff  that comes at us every day in the most weird ways. Economics, Art, Family, Politics , Human Nature .....and so on . We can not help but think .....where is today's Chesterton? 

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2014/10/06/4-ways-g-k-chesterton-engaged-his-culture-and-why-he-still-matters-today/

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October 13th, 2014How Many Loves? Arguing with C. S. Lewisby Joseph Pearce

In may latest article for the Imaginative Conservative, I have the temerity and some might say foolhardiness to argue with the great C. S. Lewis about the meaning of love. Am I mad, or merely arrogant, or do I perhaps have a point?

Read on:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/10/how-many-loves-arguing-with-cs-lewis.html

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October 13th, 2014Did Oscar Wilde say Dracula was the best novel ever written?by Joseph Pearce

I've just received an inquiry from a Spanish journalist working in Barcelona for a cultural quiz show for Antena 3, a Spanish Television Channel (the equivalent of NBC’s ‘Who’s still Standing?’).

Her work consists in writing the questions and checking if they are correct  and well formulated, in order to be as precise as possible and make sure that the show doesn’t spread wrong information to its contestants and audience. She was seeking to verify the question: Did Oscar Wilde say Dracula was the best novel ever written?

Here's my response: 

I never came across any source for this alleged fact during the extensive research that I conducted for my book on Wilde and there are several reasons for doubting strongly that Wilde would have said this. First, Dracula wasn't published until after Wilde had fallen from the limelight in disgrace. He said very little for public consumption after his release from prison in 1897, the year of Dracula's publication. Second, Stoker had married Florence Balcombe, Wilde's first-love, a loss that Wilde probably carried with him till the end of his days. It is unlikely that Wilde would have shown such magnanimity to the rival to whom he had lost the woman he loved.

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October 12th, 2014Shylock the Puritanby Brendan D. King

I first read Father Peter Milward's conclusions about Shylock, the Jewish antagonist of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" in Claire Asquith's "Shadowplay." According to Father Milward, a staunch believer in the Catholic Shakespeare, Shylock was a thinly disguised Puritan rather than a Jew. In arguing this conclusion, Father Milward strengthened a belief I had already held about Shylock for quite some time.

Among my many consuming interests is a fascination with Jewish culture. As a result, I had already read scores of Modern and Medieval Jewish folktales, proverbs, and memoirs before reading "The Merchant of Venice". When I finally did so, I was shocked to find Shylock's whole range of expression completely foreign to me.

From his first appearance, Shylock comes across as a dull, humorless, and self-righteous boor. He recoils at the merriment of the Venetian Carnival, despite the fact that Orthodox Jews celebrate the High Holidays similarly -- with copious amounts of drinking, singing, and dancing. 

An Orthodox Jew would also have regularly quoted the parables of learned Rabbis and Sages. Scores of examples may be seen in the memoirs of Glueckel of Hameln and Rabbi Leone Modena, both of whom were almost Shakespeare's contemporaries. Shylock, however, not only refers exclusively to the Old Testament, he also distorts its meaning through private interpretation. I was thus forced to conclude about Shylock, "This man is a Puritan!" 

Father Milward's statements, both as referenced in "Shadowplay" and in his book "The Catholicism in Shakespeare's Plays", added weight to what I already suspected. His documentation of Puritan control of high interest money-lending in Elizabethan England and their being referred to as "Christian Jews" seemed to put the last nail in the coffin of the Jewish Shylock.

As for the legends upon which Shakespeare drew, G.K. Chesterton once dubbed them "a Medieval satire against usury". Despite my admiration for Chesterton, I must disagree.

There are numerous versions of the legend where "Shylock" is not a Jew and where interest is never mentioned. In an Irish Gaelic version collected from the Aran Islands by John Millington Synge, "Shylock" is a Leprechaun.

In a Scottish Gaelic version collected in the Hebrides, Shylock is implied to be a Viking and plans to flay Antonio alive if the debt is not paid. In both versions, Antonio and Bassanio are combined, the wife is the rescuer in roughly the same fashion, and interest is never spoken of. 

The most unexpected account is a Jewish version from Morocco. In this story, Antonio-Bassanio is a Jew and Shylock, who is implied to be a Muslim moneylender, offers him an interest-free loan with a kilo of flesh as collateral. After the bond goes forfeit, a Muslim Princess falls in love with Antonio-Bassanio, dresses as a scholar of Islamic law, and defends him in a Muslim court. When she orders him to take his bond without shedding blood, "Shylock" responds in typical fashion for the Islamic World. He declares that he voluntarily renounces both the money and the flesh. After all, doing so is the only way for him to avoid losing face. Then, Antonio-Bassanio and the Princess marry and live happily ever after.

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October 12th, 2014Chesterton on the Bayouby Joseph Pearce

It seems that Chesterton Conferences and Chesterton Academies are springing up all over the country. Regarding the former, I have spoken at three Chesterton conferences in the past two months. In August, I was one of numerous speakers at the American Chesterton Society's national conference in Illinois, and last month I spoke at two separate Chesterton conferences in Upstate New York, one in Buffalo and the other in Rochester. 

As regards Chesterton Academies, there are several being founded around the country following the model established in the Twin Cities.

I've recently accepted an invitation to speak at the inaugural Chesterton Conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, scheduled for this coming March, at which I will be joined by other speakers, including Dale Ahlquist of the American Chesterton Society, Kevin O'Brien of the Theatre of the Word Incorporated (as well as being a StARcolumnist), and Chuck Chalberg, whose performances in persona Chesterton are always a delight.

I hope that this event will not only attract Chestertonians in the Louisiana area but those from around the country. Here's the link to the conference website:   

http://www.chestertonbr.com/2015-louisiana-chesterton-conference.html

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October 12th, 2014Confessionby Dena Hunt

I used to turn on the news on my kitchen TV every day at four o’clock when I started to cook supper.* It was, I thought, a way of catching up with the world, of finding out what was going on, but I discovered too often that I had to stop and lag behind where I actually was just in order to find out where the world was, and I grew weary of listening to people’s political opinions of what was going on. Speculation having replaced reporting some time long ago, the news channel has pretty much lost any real value.

I remembered a news broadcast made on Christmas Eve (I think) back in 1980 (I think). Roger Mudd, a major news anchorman of the time reported the evening news from the Eternal City on some pronouncement or other made by Caesar, comments made by this or that senator, the quashing of some uprising someplace in the empire, etc.—all well researched and all major news events of the day, and toward the close of the broadcast, he reported on a minor phenomenon discovered by court astronomers of an unusually bright light that appeared in the night sky in a little village in the southern part of a province known as Judea.  It was very well done. Since then, attempts have been made to replicate the original broadcast, but none have been so successful. The message was very clear.

That memory prompted me to turn off the airhead “reporting” of false news and to switch over to EWTN for the children’s shows that start at four o’clock instead. So, now I must confess: I don’t read learned theologians much any more; I watch EWTN for Kids instead. Much more straightforward, lucid, insightful, much easier to understand, and way more fun. I have my favorites, of course (all kids do, you know), and there are some I don’t enjoy much, but on the whole, I’ve found it far more informative than four o’clock news. I get the rosary for kids, even the stations of the Cross, and, of course, stories. I think my favorite is the friar who tells the parables to his friends—a little girl, a frog, and a mouse, who are always able to see the relationship of the parable to an event in their own lives. Children are so much more intelligent than grown-ups, you know. Children always understand the stories. Like fiction-writers, they know that facts are undulating chimaera, deceptive, untrustworthy, and always changing.

Recently, I spent a little time in the presence of a child who does not know how to not trust, or how to deceive, because she has not yet had a need to protect herself —but she will. Life does that. She will learn deception and distrust. God will forgive her. I forgive her/myself and maybe that’s the beginning of the childhood that is the secret desire of us all. Even way, way back in my BC days, I knew that I wanted to grow up into childhood. And as GKC can verify, the truth is just about always paradoxical, so, yes, maybe you have to get old in order to become young.

*Explanation: Most old people eat supper (or dinner, if you prefer) much earlier than other people. The reason for that is not biological, or sociological, or whatever. It’s simply that in retirement, we no longer have a fixed lunchtime, so we tend to graze or snack instead of eating lunch. Ergo, by 3:30 or 4:00, we’re hungry.

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October 10th, 2014The Mischievous Spirit of Oscar Wildeby Joseph Pearce

Yesterday, at the hotel in Worcester, Massachusetts, at which I was staying during my visit to Holy Cross College, famous to Chestertonians for GKC's filmed visit there during the dark days of Prohibition, I found a few moments to read this excellent article by Sean Fitzpatrick on Wilde's "Canterville Ghost". It's a delightfully rollicking piece of writing.

My only criticism is Mr. Fitzpatrick's quoting of Wilde's iconoclastic "moral or immoral book" aphorism without balancing it, as is surely necessary, with the other aphorisms from the same Preface (to Dorian Gray) which contradict it.

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/canterville-ghost-oscar-wilde-well-written-hell-raising

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October 9th, 2014Colson & Neuhausby Kevin Kennelly

Chuck Colson and Richard John Neuhaus were each giants spiritually and in advocating the Christian world view in the realm of public policy.....what Neuhaus called the "Public Square." Colson regularly spent Easter Sunday in various prisons presenting Christ to otherwise hopeless men. His Prison Ministry lives on. Father John Neuhaus was a Lutheran priest who became a Catholic priest and one of the most brilliant and revered Christian public intellectuals  in the Unites States .On the side he was a very holy man. His deeds live on in the form of the journal First Things wherein he brought together high church Protestants, Evangelicals, real Catholics and believing Jews. In concert with Colson and others he  created a serious, balanced and deeply thoughtful movement representing the Judeo Christian tradition in the public square.

In "Ghosts of Colson and Neuhaus ", the well-known and productive Rod Dreher reports on a recent seminar put together by Rusty Reno at the office of First Things. Mr .Dreher gracefully does not "over report" on who participated in the meeting or what was said except to the extent that certain talks are to be published in First Things and are therefore of a public nature. These talks .... by Michael Hanby, George Weigel and by Dreher ...... are vividly described by Mr. Dreher in "Ghosts." We have traversed from Ozzie and Harriet to The Simpsons to Family Matters ......not a good vector.

The full article is found here: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/ghosts-chuck-colson-richard-john-neuhaus-first-things/

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October 6th, 2014Sassoon Resurrectedby Joseph Pearce

In my book Literary Converts I wrote about the many major writers in the twentieth century who embraced Catholicism. Many of these, such as Newman, Chesterton, Eliot, Waugh, Greene, Tolkien and Lewis, receive the attention they deserve. Others such as Belloc, Baring, Campbell, Noyes and Benson are unjustly neglected. There is one poet, however, whose current neglect is nothing less than scandalous. I refer to that marvelous writer, Siegfried Sassoon, whose portrait is the centrepiece of a triptych of portraits gracing our living room (he is flanked by Belloc and Chesterton). 

One of my ambitions is to publish an edition of Sassoon's poetry, interlaced with my own biographical and literary musings, charting his long and ultimately triumphal path to Rome. Since this project will be a labour of love and is unlikely to be financially remunerative, I am seeking a good old-fashioned patron to finance the project. Catholic benefactors, please bear it in mind! In the interim, I'm delighted to learn that Cambridge University has made Sassoon's diaries available on-line:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/the-compulsive-chronicles-of-siegfried-sassoon-1411419810?KEYWORDS=Max+egremont

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October 6th, 2014Catholicism and Capitalism: Friends or Enemies?by Joseph Pearce

Always willing to court controversy, I'm speaking this Thursday evening at Holy Cross College in Worcester MA on the contentious topic of the Church's social teaching. I hope that any readers of the Ink Desk within driving distance of Holy Cross will come and see the fun or join the argument:

http://news.holycross.edu/blog/2014/09/30/noted-catholic-author-to-discuss-capitalism-in-the-church/

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October 6th, 2014Voting for the Devilby Joseph Pearce

In my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative, I offer an Englishman's perspective of Scotland's recent referendum:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/10/voting-for-the-devil.html

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October 6th, 2014The Dominican Optionby Joseph Pearce

As I continue to settle into my new position as Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College, I am getting a deeper insight than ever into the role and place of Dominican spirituality in the modern world. The College is part of the multifaceted apostolate of the Nashville Dominicans, the work of which I have admired for many years. As I contemplate my own small part in this work, I was intrigued by an article on "The Dominican Option" in First Things. It suggests that the Dominican Option might be a better model for the renewal of Christian culture than the oft-touted Benedictine Option. Read on:

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/10/the-dominican-option

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October 6th, 2014TOLKIEN, MINAS TIRITH AND THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLEby Stephen Brady

I have always liked Orthodox Church music and now find it is on the Internet in English.  This is a Hymn to Maria Theotokos, Mary Mother of God

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDPmHX-er4I&index=6&list=PL42090A646C430B91

Whilst this is stirring stuff

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7ysB50Pbv4&list=PL42090A646C430B91&index=9

The tune appears to be a Byzantine battle hymn, the sort of stuff the Excubitores and Scholae, the crack Imperial Guard units,  would have sung as they waded into the orc-hordes of Islam.  

I like the way they have photoshopped Haghia Sophia back to how it should be, the crescent stuck on top by the Turks taken down and the Cross replaced, and the tawdry and mismatched minarets stuck up around it removed. 

The Turks have shamefully neglected this great Church building, even after Kemal Ataturk to his credit booted out the imams, stopped its abuse as a mosque, and at least parked it in neutral as a museum, ordering the removal of the whitewash splattered over the sacred frescoes. Sadly the orc-scrawls from the Koran remain. As Islamism grows in Turkey the restoration work grows ever more half hearted and there is talk of making it a mosque again.

Even in its tawdry state of disrepair I think it is one of the finest things men have ever built.

The superb Virgin and Child above the High Altar (or where the High Altar was and should be!) was unveiled on Holy Saturday 867 by the Patriarch Photius.

Either side of the Great Door through which only the Emperor and the Patriarch could walk are dimples worn in the marble floor by guardsmen stamping their feet as they came to attention at least once a day for a thousand years. Many of them, for generations, would have been Englishmen serving in the Varangian Guard, which became highly popular amongst the English after the Norman Conquest. 

It seems likely to me that Constantinople, which for a thousand years mounted guard on Europe’s Asian flank against the Islamic hordes, was at least in part the inspiration for Tolkien’s Minas Tirith. I don’t recall if JRRT actually said this though. By, I suspect, no coincidence, Turkish sounds awfully liked the Black Speech of Mordor.  Indeed the Eastern and Western Roman Empires mirrored the fates of Gondor and Arnor -   the former held on but the latter fell apart.

Sadly, for our world's Minas Tirith Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan never came, and on Tuesday 29th May 1453 the City fell after a heroic siege (in which at least one Briton, a Scot, joined the pathetic few who came from across Europe to help it in its final need). As the great Land Walls, which had stood for a thousand years, were breached by blasting fire, and the hordes of darkness came pouring in, the last of the Emperors, Michael XI Palaeologus, tore off his imperial regalia and leaped into the fray to die fighting. He was never seen again. 

The women and children of the City gathered in Haghia Sophia to pray for a miracle. None came to save them, but the story is still told among the Greeks, the heirs to the fallen Empire, that as the Turks burst into the church and started raping and killing the congregation the priests and deacons celebrating Mass at the altar lifted up the Host and the Holy Vessels, bowed once to the congregation being engulfed in chaos and slaughter, and walked into the walls. When/if one day the armies of Europe and Christendom return, as they enter the Church the priests etc will come back out of the walls to finish celebrating the Mass, and the Last Emperor Michael XI, miraculously snatched from the melee and preserved by the Lady Protector of the City, Maria Theotokos, Mary Mother of God, will stand before the altar to welcome back the Armies of the West. 

After the City fell, it was given over as Islamic Law prescribes to three days of sack, rapine, plunder and slaughter. Then the Turk Sultan, Mehmet II, called al-Fatih, the Conqueror, rode in like the Lord of the Ringwraiths to triumph over the ruined city. He rode his horse into the greatest Church of Christendom, dismounted and defiled the altar by salaaming to Allah before it, thus by their rules making the place forever a mosque. Many of the people of the City who had survived three days of slaughter and gang-rape were sold off into slavery. 

 

 

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October 1st, 2014It’s Like Kaddishby Dena Hunt

Every Sabbath, Jewish services conclude with the Kaddish prayer for the dead, recited when someone dies and every year thereafter on the “yahrzeit,” or anniversary of their death.

Kaddish, if I’m not mistaken, simply means praise.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

“My father,” Isaac says to Abraham, who holds the knife poised above him, “Is there nothing your God may not ask of you?”

“Nothing,” his father answers.

We give back to God what is his and never was our own.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

  When I was twelve, my friend Jane Conner suddenly died from meningitis, an illness that gave no one time to prepare for her death. The coffin was set up for the wake in their home, in the dining room, and all the friends, neighbors, and family members came to call. Her mother, supported by family members, came quietly into the dining room to stand by the coffin for a couple of minutes and then turn and smile and greet the guests.

Is there nothing your God may not ask of you?

Nothing, answers Mrs. Conner. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Then she disappeared into the darker regions of the house, and the wake continued—people eating, talking.

  John Robert, a little boy who was a couple of years younger than I, suddenly burst into angry tears because somebody was laughing in the room there, in the room where Jane was. “He doesn’t understand,” his mother murmured apologetically and took him outside. No, nor did I—I was trying, trying hard to act grown up, but I couldn’t figure out who to mimic, or what to do. The universe was upside down. My friend Jane wouldn’t get up. Jane, come on and let’s go outside (neither of us ever liked indoors), let’s go catch minnows at Avery’s Pond, let’s climb the mimosa tree and drop crabapples on top of passing cars, let’s put sticks through sweet potatoes and roast them over a fire of twigs, get some meal from the kitchen and make a hoecake. Get up, let’s go. Stop this pretending and let’s go play pretend. You’re so still. Stop it. Get up.

  The Baptist preacher came and prayed over Jane and everyone there. “Lord, just be with this family, just put your heavenly arms around them…just…” Then he ate a little food, talked with some people, and left.

  The funeral was the next day in the little country church there in rural Georgia. I didn’t go. Instead, I went outside, walked in the woods, climbed a tree. I wished Jane was with me, but she wasn’t and she would never be with me again. So I sat up in the tree instead of the church and said, “I want to believe she’s in heaven. I want to believe there is a heaven, and that Jane is there.” Because that was what I could believe to be the truth.

  I didn’t know then that all the ritual, the wake, the funeral were necessary things. It is not reality, it is not God, it is not even faith—it’s pretend. Children know that. It frightens them because they know it’s not real, it’s not the truth, it’s pretend, and grown-ups are not supposed to pretend.

  But it’s like Kaddish. Say it even if you don’t mean it. No, it’s not real, but it’s caring, and it’s “…just…” praying, it’s what we say to each other when there is nothing else we can say. Poor Mrs. Conner, forced by supporting arms to come in and smile and greet those people. It’s grown-up pretending. Not the truth, not the stuff a tree is made of, but something else—the gathering, the food and talk, the greeting and the smile—all of it, is a prayer: Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

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October 1st, 2014On Heroesby Matthew Elam

Gilbert Keith Chesterton once said, "We may, by fixing our attention almost fiercely on the facts actually before us, force them to turn into adventures; force them to give up their meaning and fulfil their mysterious purpose." Unfortunately, the "facts actually before us" are the things which get the least of our attention. What we call extraordinary is often merely novel, while the mundane contains amazing things. In fact, the most amazing things are precisely those things which seem to us most ordinary.

The divergence between what is novel and what is truly amazing can be demonstrated in the case of Superman. Superman can fly. No doubt, the prospect of flying is exciting, but the idea that a superhuman creature can fly offers me no hope of doing it myself. There was, however, one time when I was deeply impressed by a man flying. The most amazing thing about him wasn't that he wore tights and a cape and came from outer space; the most amazing thing was that he dressed like any other man, save that he wore tiny golden wings pinned to his lapel. He even gave me a pair of wings like his, as if to say, “You, too, can fly.”

Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Presumably, he would do so because someone's life was in danger. I am not inspired by the man who leaps a tall building in a single bound, even if he does so to save a life. Superhuman feats are expected from Superman. Any other use of his abilities would be a dereliction of duty. I have seen something which I consider even more impressive: I have seen men scale the sides of skyscrapers, not in a single bound, but in such a way that pays respect to those monolithic monuments to human ingenuity. Such men go up one side and down the other, slowly, carrying buckets of soapy water. They wipe away the dirt that collects on those windows, with the humility of Mary washing the feet of Christ. One might point out that no lives are saved by window washers, and I respond that there are things which only window washers can save us from—things worse than death. Whereas Superman saves lives, window washers save souls.

Windows are both wonderful and necessary. Through them we see the world and are forced to remember that we are part of the natural order, and that no amount of wood, bricks, and vinyl siding can permanently sever our relationship with creation. The danger of forgetting this fact is most imminent in the business buildings downtown. Inside these invulnerable, impersonal offices, inside dull, characterless cubicles, men and women, hard at work, are already treated as replaceable parts. Each of the men and women laboring inside such skyscrapers are in grave danger. Without an unobstructed view of the skies, they might forget about Heaven. Without a clear view of the streets, they might forget about Man. Without the window washers, the smog, soot, and grime would add layer upon layer, progressively covering the windows until the windows were completely blackened. On that terrible day, the workers would not see the sun set. If not for the window washers, they would forget to go back to their homes and their families and, thus, lose everything worth living for.

A superhero more worthy of our wonder is Batman. The difference between Batman and Superman is this: Batman is a man. He is a normal guy who decided to fight crime with his brains and fists and feet, none of which are superhuman in any way. Batman being limited in the same way I am, with all the ordinary shortcomings of a man, makes him a representation of humanity at its very best; he is an ordinary person performing extraordinary deeds.

Superman may move as fast as a speeding bullet, but why is that any more incredible than the speeding bullet? If I were in advertising, I would advertise bullets as "As Fast as a Fictional Superhero!" Superman has X-ray vision; my dentist does, too. There were moments when I found Superman captivating, but those moments invariably involved kryptonite. Only in his weakness could I relate to Superman, and this further illustrates my point. It is our weaknesses that make us amazing. It is precisely because a window washer cannot fly that it is so amazing that he scales the skyscraper anyway. It is precisely because man cannot run as fast as a bullet that it is so amazing that man invented bullets.

The adventures we love so much in comics, novels, and films are actually the adventures we live every day. It is only because those adventures are ever-present that we cannot see them in our own lives. We need superheroes to reaffirm those qualities we value most—bravery, selflessness, strength, hope—but we must not forget that the qualities they exhibit can be seen as often in our neighbors and ourselves. The average person has all the wonderful qualities we value in our superheroes, and one more besides: existence. As Chesterton put it, "The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature."

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September 30th, 2014The Hound of Heaven in Hollywoodby Joseph Pearce

As readers of the Ink Desk might recall I've been involved in a multi-media re-presentation of Francis Thompson's superb poem, The Hound of Heaven. My own involvement has included the role of consultant and participant in the 30-minute documentary on Thompson's life, and also as the writer of the introduction to a new published adaptation of the poem. There have also been an animated film of the modern adaptation of the poem and even a new country-style song inspired by the poem.

My ongoing engagement with this exciting project will continue with "An Evening with Francis Thompson" at Aquinas College in Nashville on Tuesday, November 18.

One aspect of the whole project with which I have not been involved is the film version by Brian Oxley and Hisao Kurosowa. Ahead of its premiere at the forthcoming Raindance Film Festival, the trailer has been featured on the Hollywood Reporter website:

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/watch-trailer-hound-heaven-inspired-736518?mobile_redirect=false

 

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September 30th, 2014Hope at Hopeby Joseph Pearce

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

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

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September 27th, 2014Kairos and Chronosby Dena Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What are your thoughts on the subject?