August 25th, 2014The Masculine Mystiqueby Marie Dudzik

Women love to talk about men, and most often the conversation comes around to the question “Where have all the men gone?” What we are really asking is “Whatever happed to masculinity?”

The author of the article linked below, George Fields, focuses on masculinity, both what it is and what it isn’t. Feminists have used their version of male dominance to push their way into every corner of society. Mr. Fields provides a different version of male dominance. A sampling: “It has nothing to do with the dominance of others; quite to the contrary, those who are most beautiful to our minds and praised for their masculine virtues are those who serve; and the more their service becomes a loving slavery, the more our hearts are touched by their works.”

This is paternity, pure and simple. It is every good father, priest, and male boss we have ever met. It is also the example set by Christ, washing the feet of His disciples and telling them to conquer the world by becoming servants.

So where has all the masculinity gone? One could paraphrase GK Chesterton: it is not that masculinity has been tried and failed; it is that it has been found too difficult and left untried. Evidently it's easier to get manicures and wax jobs than to curb ones appetites.

http://thefederalist.com/2014/08/12/masculinity-is-about-dominance-and-thats-a-good-thing/

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August 24th, 2014Hearts of Flesh and the Personal Dimension of Salvationby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



We are not saved by a system.  We are not saved by a program.  We are not saved by a gimmick.

We are saved by a person.  And by His death, which was the most personal gift He could give.

This is why heart must speak to heart (as I wrote, quoting Bl. John Henry Newman, earlier today - whose motto was cor ad cor loquitur: heart speaks to heart).  Anything in the Church that falls shy of loyalty, love, fidelity and integrity between people; anything that falls shy of the true mutual giving and sacrifice of love; anything that falls shy of an actual realistic relationship; anything that falls shy of heart speaking to heart and heart listening to heart is a sham and is a hollow mockery of what saves us.

The impersonal is the life (and the lie) of the heart of stone.  The personal is the mark of the circumcised heart, the heart of flesh (see Ez. 36:26).

This is why, when a bishop or a cardinal argues that they are not responsible for reprehensible actions that they've enabled and covered up, even if such a stance is a swing at a legitimate legal defense, it betrays Jesus Christ and His Spirit that operates within us.  And it destroys the hopes and fans the flaming anger of victims.  It shows at best disregard and at worst contempt for the hearts of others.  This should be self-evident, but for many people today, it isn't.

And you can see this playing out all around you, if you look.

***

She was a wealthy adolescent.  She was smart and creative, but, like many children of wealth, she was neglected.  She had everything she wanted materially, but in a very fundamental way her parents didn't care for her, at least not enough to parent her.  They were planning to ship her off to a long-term stay at a boarding facility - against her will.

She looked right at me one day.  "My parents would be happier if I were entirely out of their life," she said.

"Ohhh," I said, "it's not that bad."

But it was.  And it took me a while to see the awful truth, a truth that had so surrounded her that it had threatened to drown her all her life.  She had to keep up the doggie paddle or she'd simply sink, and Mom and Dad would be too busy at the country club to throw her a line.

Imagine being a child or a teen and living with that knowledge.  You'd try to hide the pain by taking drugs, or running away, or withdrawing from life, or acting out.  She tried all of these things, and of course none of them helped.  Neither did the therapy or the rehab stints that absentee Mom and Dad kept sending her to.

What would have helped was the one thing she didn't have.  Heart speaking to heart.  Love.

It's a price wealthy parents are not always willing to pay.  Why would you, when you can buy yourself out of it?

***

He thought that even though they weren't lovers, they were at least friends.  It had been a long term long-distance email relationship, and they had shared much with one another (at least early on), and he had done his best to help her and be there for her when she needed him, but recently, despite their original intensity, he was noticing that time and again she refused to reciprocate.  She enjoyed his attention, but when the chips were down, she would vanish.  It got to a point where she wouldn't even show him common courtesies and she began to treat him like a kind of benign acquaintance, rather than as a friend.  She moved on and she liked to pretend they had never been close; that seemed to assuage her, but it haunted him.  She was nice, but in a condescending way, and complacently distant - even after heart had spoken to heart.

"It looks like she's dumped you," I observed.

"But I was always there for her.  I opened my heart to her.  And she did to me.  How can she be so glib and smug about this - as if that had never happened?"

***

They were married, and their lives together were make-believe.  Something highly artificial abounded in their relationship.  The age difference was a factor, and when she refused to acknowledge that he was old and sick, but insisted that he keep up the eternal forced and relentless pace that she had long demanded of him, they were both harder to be around than ever.  It was exhausting and sad.  They kept up appearances, but neither for each other, nor for their friends and family could heart simply speak to heart.  They both saw to it that it was never that easy, never that real, never that loving.

And instead of a mutual peace, there was an incessant treadmill.

***

If it is true that in the Church today we are answering questions that no one is asking (as I wrote earlier, quoting a friend of mine), then it's simply because heart is not speaking to heart.  Or because heart is not listening to heart.

If one heart speaks, the other must listen.  That's the key to friendship, and that's the key to prayer (I mean not only talking to God, but listening to Him).  And if we listened to our neighbors, both in and out of the pews, we would hear that same longing, that same silent lament, that same sad mourning for a moon that never changes, a moon of glowing silver that draws us to a glorious glen, hidden in a bower, aglow with fireflies and filled with a magical breeze: for this longing is found in the hearts of more than just poets.  And we might hear the questions they are asking, and we might begin to answer them.

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August 24th, 2014The Scandal of Coffee and Donutsby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Canon Ueda (who has been giving Private Instruction to my actor Dave, a recent convert to the Catholic Faith) told Dave this morning that it was not enough to go to Sunday Mass at St. Francis de Sales Oratory in South St. Louis, where Dave has been going.  He had to start going to Coffee and Donuts as well.

Why?

"We must not separate the sacramental life from the daily life," Canon Ueda said.

And I realized immediately that this is not only very profound, it's also a very simple way of saying what I have been trying to write about on this blog for a long time.  When we separate sacramental life from daily life, we are building an artificial wall between grace and nature, we are insulating ourselves, we are trying to turn God and His Church into something Unreal, something merely functional, that serves our own narrow needs and that locks out the rest of the world, as well as that disturbing Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Comforter (John 14:16), who brings something much more challenging and disturbing than mere suburban placid human comfort, which is what we think we prefer, but which is something that is ultimately poison for us.

In other words, even Coffee and Donuts can bring us to scandal, for even Coffee and Donuts can bring us out of our shell, out of our "comfort zones".

***

Those of us "inside the Roman beltway", those of us who are trying to be devout Catholics and who are geeky enough to read theology and talk philosophy and faith over beer or whiskey with like-minded friends, those of us who are more or less up to speed on church politics and who may even know personally some of the EWTN Rock Stars or some of the Catholic Answers Gurus who cause little old ladies to swoon, those of us who read papal encyclicals and apostolic exhortations - in other words those of us who are to a certain extent insulated from the real world out there - can find it hard to imagine the impact all of this stuff has on the human heart of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve who walk about in this vale of tears, whether they consider themselves Catholics or atheists.

Because we get too insulated, you know.   And we tend to miss the target - or the heart of the target ... and the heart of the target is the heart.

For instance, my posts on Catholic Dating really rang a bell with many of you - but normal secularists, and even normal Catholics, think this whole subculture of dating without having sex is just weird.  And even those of us inside that little circle - the circle of devout Christians who are hoping to find a devout mate and relate to him or her in a chaste manner - even that little circle is outside the more insulated and much more bizarre and dysfunctional world of "Christian Courting".  The sickness of the Christian Courting subculture stands as a sign for us that even our own relatively sane attempts to find true love can become quite self-serving and kind of incestuous by comparison with the more normal folk about us who aren't so hung up as all that.  Normal folk may not be striving for holiness, but common sense is a gift from God and it's something we often lose sight of - for common sense is a virtue of the human heart.

Maybe this can explain the cluelessness of the bishops, who like Cardinal Pell, cause more anger, despondency and despair with one statement (comparing the Church to to a trucking firm and thereby renouncing responsibility for sexual abuse committed by priests) than a dozen headlines of atrocities in the evening news.  To be fair, I have read a few reports that put Pell's statement into more of a context, and the transcripts of his testimony are available here (I have not yet read them) - but it's been my impression that the bishops are so insulated from the real world and the concerns of real people that they take for granted a kind of grandeur and self-importance that they simply don't have, and in most cases simply don't deserve.  And they get really mad when you challenge that.

But the problem of being insulated from the real world and the real concerns of real people is not a problem of bishops and cardinals only.

Indeed, my son Colin keeps reminding me that, when it comes to Devout Catholics (as my friend Noah Lett once said), we're busy answering questions no one is asking.  His Catholic friends at college were not concerned about the kinds of theological issues or political issues that did not have an immediate bearing on the crises of their lives, as lived every day.  There was a disconnect; there was something Unreal about the issues we kept harping on.  As far as that goes, "gay marriage" is such a non-issue for the vast majority of normal people in America (of all ages and demographics) that they can't begin to imagine what the fuss it.  Does that mean that we should stop talking about the sanctity of marriage?  No, but it's been almost 500 years since Henry VIII got that divorce - and all those other divorces - and the sanctity of marriage has not been an issue in the real world, and not even (apparently) at the parish level in the Catholic Church, for a long time, all the while pretty much everybody has been simply "doing it".  And why not?  When Pope Francis suggests we not hit people over the head with abortion and "gay marriage" (as important as those issues are), he's simply saying what C. S. Lewis said many years ago: you can't start a dialogue with non-believers by telling them to give up fornication.  That's kind of a conversation killer right there.  And it's putting the cart before the horse; it's looking through the telescope from the wrong end.  The role of sex in a life devoted to true love is not readily apparent to people who have not struggled to have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16).  The wholeness of the Christian message - the core of which is that God is love and that our greatest calling is to love Him and to love one another - leads (eventually, and by God's grace) to a change of heart and hence a change of behavior.  But we insulated Catholics inside the Roman beltway forget that sin and virtue are both simply fruits of the heart.  For what comes out of the heart defiles a man (Mat. 15:18), and what comes out of the heart justifies a man - so to speak; technically good works are the fruits of the Holy Spirit; but my point is the same.  The point is we are seeking - through Baptism and through the sacramental life - a change of heart, for the heart is the seat of the soul, the center of our being, the core of our very existence.

But we devout Catholics - bloggers and others - often forget that.  What we miss is the very target, the very center.  What we miss is the heart - its concerns, its pains, its passions.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,  
To me the meanest flower that blows can give  
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.


A cardinal sitting peacefully in the Vatican and communicating via webcam to a courtroom in Australia filled with many who have suffered gravely at the hands of predator priests - and also at the hands of bishops who have enabled and covered up and lied for predator priests - a man, even a good man, insulated in such a way, perhaps forgets the human heart, forgets the target of all his life's work, forgets the message of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (both pierced for our sake).

And so do we - even bloggers and daily Mass goers and EWTN junkies and men and women on the street.

***

But some of us don't.  Canon Ueda and other good priests don't.  They remember that the heart of the target is the heart of the man.

COURAGE is defined on the Online Etymology Dictionary in this way ...

courage (n.) 
c.1300, from Old French corage (12c., Modern French courage) "heart, innermost feelings; temper," from Vulgar Latin *coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), from Latin cor "heart" (see heart) which remains a common metaphor for inner strength. 


To be DISCOURAGED is to lose heart.  To be ENCOURAGED is to gain strength of heart.

And both encouragement and discouragement can come from Coffee and Donuts.

Because communion with Christ must become communion with others.  And in that way cor ad cor loquitur - heart speaks to heart.

For without that, no evangelizaton - indeed no change of heart - can happen.



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August 22nd, 2014E. F. Schumacher: Small is Beautiful and so is Catholicismby Joseph Pearce

My article on the great convert economist, E. F. Schumacher, has just been published on the ChurchPop website:

http://www.churchpop.com/2014/08/22/the-liberal-environmentalist-nobody-knew-was-catholic/

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August 22nd, 2014Show Biz and the Divine Dramaby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



Mark Shea has written a third installment in his series on the connection between Drama and Religion, which you can find at Catholic World Report.  Since I've written about this topic myself (mostly from the point of view of actors, or the analogy between Acting and the Faith), I thought I'd add a few things to the very insightful points that Mark makes.

  • Shea's first installment discusses the history of drama and its relation to religion, and also tackles the overall philosophical connection between Drama and Worship.  

I find it interesting that many of the commenters on that installment entirely miss Mark's point.  They seem to think he's saying that our Faith is merely a kind of Divine Drama, and that the Catholic Mass is a kind of show that simply represents something for our spiritual amusement.  I am often astounded at the lack of imagination that literalists (either Catholic or Protestant or Atheist) bring to bear, especially when analogy is involved.  

On the contrary, Shea points out that Drama is a kind of analogy to our participation in the Faith, that ritual and dramatic performance are similar, and that they have aims that can be compared to one another; that both in Greece and in England, Drama sprang up historically in religious contexts, and that even today Drama at its best is an attempt to connect men with "the gods".  This "sets the stage", so to speak, for the overall analogy that Shea will be examining in his series of posts.  

And yet one further thing needs to be said, and it's something G. K. Chesterton understood innately about what Drama (indeed about what all art) is.  Drama takes places on a stage, on a screen, framed within a proscenium.  Even if there's no proscenium, and the play is a "theater in the round" or an "interactive" comedy like my murder mysteries, there is always an artificial distance between the performers and the audience, and even between the performers and their material.  Everyone is pretending.  In the same way that a baseball game is played within the set confines of a field, so a dramatic performance takes place within a delimited area (either a physical area or an area of the imagination), a special place marked off from the rest of the world.  It is this limitation, this framing, that allows the participants the freedom to engage their imaginations without being threatened.  To watch the mob scene in a performance of Julius Caesar is thrilling.  To be part of a mob scene in Ferguson would be terrifying.   

Drama, then, is a kind of Big Playground, a safe place, where writers, actors and audiences all play.  And this playing with the big questions of life - the nature of man and how his acts reveal to us the nature of God - this imaginative hypothetical, shows us, as Shakespeare's Touchstone points out, that there is "much virtue in if".  


And he quite rightly sees the heart of the analogy.  Actors who act on stage or in film adopt a kind of mask, a false persona, that they try to conform themselves to as genuinely as possible so that the performance is all the more artistic and believable.  But this is what we do as Christians, and we are hupocritos, "hypocrites" (stage actors, pretenders wearing a mask), whether we like it or not.  

And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind ... (Rom. 12:2)


For the great challenge of life in the Faith is Getting in Character as a Christian.  Actors understand this analogy deeply.  The hard part about acting is "getting it", finding the integrity or inner consistency of the character you're portraying.  Once you do that, the role becomes natural: your gestures, your words, your voice and movement - everything about you conforms to the character, once you've found the character's soul or center.

So much of our frustrations as Bad Christians comes from not yet Getting in Character for our roles.  When the mask is simply something separate from us, simply something extrinsic that we aspire to, we often find ourselves becoming obsessed with the minutiae, focused on various virtues or sins rather than the big picture; or worse, we start to rationalize away all sorts of acts that show that we're still "conformed to this world" and not "transformed" by the renewing of our minds.

But this inner transformation is beyond us.  It cannot happen without sacramental grace.  It also cannot happen without our conscious and deliberate cooperation with that grace.  Conforming ourselves to the Costume that we put on at our Baptisms is a mystery - one that requires both our own efforts and also the cessation of our efforts.  It is both an acquiescence to something greater, and also a striving toward something greater.

This is the paradox of living the Faith that acting in a drama perfectly mimics.  As an actor, if you don't do a certain amount of conscious work, such as learning your lines, studying the play, meditating upon your character, planning certain bits, rehearsing - you'll get nowhere.  But by the same token, if you don't abandon all of that work and preparation in the moment of performance, your acting will be stilted, contrived, awkward.  When the curtain goes up and the lights shine down, you must (in a sense) lose your life to save it (see Mat. 10:39) and abandon your work to the Holy Spirit, to the inspiration of the moment.  I think musicians, athletes and soldiers all understand what I'm saying.

The paradox of the stage actor is the paradox of the Christian actor - we must put forth effort to be conformed to our roles (both on stage and in life); but the true conformation happens at a level that is a gift from God and that is beyond our human control.  Effort and abandon, like Faith and Works, always paradoxically go together.


... which is a kind of clericalism.  For if an actor functions as a type of priest - connecting the audience to "the gods" revealed by the playwright and by the structure of the play's action, functioning as a pontifex or bridge builder - then it's very tempting to treat actors the way many Catholics treat clergy - to worship the creature rather than the Source the creature points to.  And of course nothing good comes from this, either for the audience that, in idolatrous zeal, worships a mere man; or for the mere man this audience worships.  For it's never easy for all of us matinee idols (who are, literally, idols) to say, as Paul and Barnabas did when the inhabitants of Lystra saw them working miracles and began worshiping them as gods, 

"Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them." - (Acts 14:15)


That is our role as actors, to point our audiences to the God "who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them".  It is a priestly function.  It bridges the gap between the audience and God, by bringing written words to life, by continuing God's work of making the Word become flesh.

The applause, therefore, is never about us.  And if we're booed, it's because we assert our own identities into the material - the audience sees behind the mask to the actor who is giving a listless performance, or cannot become engaged in the liturgy because the priest is asserting his own identity by making stuff up, or become distracted because the musicians are turning themselves into the center of attention, rather than the God the Divine Drama points to.

***

So, to paraphrase Shakespeare, "The play's the thing wherein we'll catch a glimpse of the King of Kings."


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August 20th, 2014Twelve Angry Men and Shakespeare’s Catholicismby Joseph Pearce

I've just received an e-mail from a correspondent in Australia about the play, Twelve Angry Men. The sort of evidence that is encapsulated in the paragraph he quotes is not only applicable to the case for Shakespeare's Catholicism but is the same principle for the evidence for Catholic Christianity that Newman employs in The Grammar of Assent. It's the healthy marriage of reason with common sense!

Here's the text of the e-mail:

I am currently teaching Twelve Angry Men to my two senior classes, and discovered this interesting online argument (http://www.avclub.com/article/did-i12-angry-meni-get-it-wrong-83245) about the evidence in the play. The author argues that the jury in Twelve Angry Men came up with the wrong verdict. The line of argument ties in well with your thesis about Shakespeare’s Catholicism – namely, each piece of evidence in a vacuum can be challenged; however, as a body of evidence, it is a compelling case.

The paragraph copied below encapsulates this idea.

None of this ultimately matters, however, because determining whether a defendant should be convicted or acquitted isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be—a matter of examining each piece of evidence in a vacuum. “Well, there’s some bit of doubt attached to all of them, so I guess that adds up to reasonable doubt.” No. What ensures The Kid’s guilt for practical purposes, though neither the prosecutor nor any of the jurors ever mentions it (and Rose apparently never considered it), is the sheer improbability that all the evidence is erroneous. You’d have to be the jurisprudential inverse of a national lottery winner to face so many apparently damning coincidences and misidentifications.

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August 20th, 2014The Unchosenby Dena Hunt

We’re seeing the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, which, according to just about everyone there, have nothing to do with the shooting of a black robber by a white policeman, and we’re seeing the hideous massacre of Christians and others in northern Iraq by an army of Islamists—and this is just today’s news. The same news comes from Gaza, firing literally thousands of rockets into Israel and constructing tunnels by which to kill more, especially in schools, hospitals, and other sites where victims are most defenseless. This is not conquest, this is not a religious argument, this is not racism. It’s not a political or ideological revolution. There is no order to it, no organization, no sense of purpose. The looting in Ferguson has no aim to acquire money or consumer goods. It has no aim at all. This is not a descent into the law of the jungle—where animals kill in order to eat—this is a descent below that, where there is no law at all, no purpose except to take for the sake of taking, to kill for the sake of killing.

  In fact, no sort of analysis works here—not racial, religious, political, economic—nothing. Why? Because we try to understand it in terms of deprivation. The haves vs. the have nots—whether the object is money or land, power or prestige. We want to see it that way because it would make it possible to solve, we could simply provide what is apparently lacking—give them a chunk of Israel, give them money or goods, give them power (dominance) over their neighbors. In fact, that’s how the world—not just the U.S.—has been trying to deal with this kind of murderous rage.

  What they’re angry about is history, past and present (aka reality). Their anger cannot be appeased because its true object is invisible. They’re angry with God. Why? Because he made them what they are. God made them Cain and not Abel, Ishmael and not Isaac. He made them the Unchosen. The murderous violence is not due to anything anyone has done to them for which apology or reparation could be made, anything that’s been taken from them that could be returned, any earthly injustice that could be righted somehow. There is, in fact, nothing other people can do to appease them.

  This kind of rage can’t be healed from the outside in. No one in the world can remedy their injury. There is no help. There are only two choices…

  I will give vent to my righteous wrath. If the coat of many colors is not given to me, I will take it from him to whom it was given. I kill in the name of justice for myself because I have no other choice. If God will not favor me, I will not favor him, I will make my own God.

  or

  Though I am unchosen, I may still choose. My will was not taken from me. And I choose to love him who did not choose to love me. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs may eat of the crumbs that fall from the table.”

  The consequences of the first choice are played out in the daily news. The consequences of the second choice are: “’I tell you, I have not seen so great a faith in all of Israel.’ And from that hour, her child was healed.”

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August 20th, 2014I’m Just Down the Road from Ferguson, Missouriby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

In fact, here's the cake in Ferguson, Missouri that Karen and I photographed in June.  It's in the revived downtown, which is filled with local shops, black and white owners, a charming area.

The cake is to the right, above the bench.


The situation in Ferguson is complex, and I'll add what I can as a lifelong resident of the St. Louis area.

St. Louis has long been a very segregated town.  The city of St. Louis is an independent city, not in any county.  Though my father grew up in North St. Louis, for my whole life North St. Louis has been black and South St. Louis white.  Now, however, pretty much the whole city is black, with a few white enclaves here and there.  Rehabbers who come in and "gentrify" city neighborhoods are white and very liberal and childless.

St. Louis County surrounds the city of St. Louis on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River.  North St. Louis County is mostly black; South St. Louis County (where I live) is mostly white.  25 years ago Ferguson was a white working lower-middle-class neighborhood, comprised of North St. Louis city residents who moved to the suburbs when what is called the "white flight" began.  The black presence in Ferguson is fairly recent, and is apparently comprised of the next generation of migrants from North St. Louis, who are now black.  This is why the Ferguson city counsel and the police force is still almost entirely white - the change in racial mixture in Ferguson is fairly recent.  And for whatever reason, the blacks have not yet caught up politically there.

On the Illinois side of the river, there are a number of communities which are either all black or all white, including all black East St. Louis, which is consistently listed as one of the most violent cities in America.  Belleville, Illinois is the exception, as Belleville is mixed, though the neighborhoods in Belleville are either all black or all white.

There seemed to be much more racial tension in St. Louis a generation ago, though if you look at Facebook groups dedicated to the situation in Ferguson or to comments at the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, you'll see there's still plenty of racism seething below the surface.

I was out of town all of last week when this situation first exploded, and from what I can see it's pretty complex.  There are a number of factors that play into it - racism, poverty, unemployment, outside agitation, a history of police brutality, the extreme militarization of the local police force - who are untrained and who are embarrassing my military friends, the lack of political leadership, the fact that most protesters are peaceful but the violent ones are causing a ton of trouble, the effect of the shocking images of a kind of civil war in the streets, and the shooting that started it all - which could be justified or could not be justified, as only an impartial examination of evidence will tell.

Meanwhile, here are a few other views of the Ferguson cake.  Here are all my posts on the Cakeway to the West project.  Quite honestly, we've put our picture taking on hold, as most of the remaining cakes are in neighborhoods that aren't too safe to begin with, much less at a time when this much rage is brewing.

 

The cake is near the lower left in this shot.  It appears storm clouds were gathering over Ferguson, even then.





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August 20th, 2014Sacred and Satanic Violence: The Place of the Demonic in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connorby Kevin Kennelly

Flannery O'Connor was thrice blessed: she was Catholic, she was southern and she was an Irish American. She also was one of the great writers of the 20th century combining an extraordinary ability to put words together in a pleasing way with a talent for developing stories and mesmerizing readers. Many of her writings are deeply Catholic. And she was a top drawer Thomist. The inestimable Ralph Wood, a scholar of the first order affiliated with Baylor University has written a thorough and fascinating piece dealing with "the place of the demonic" in O'Connor's writings.

http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/08/15/4067907.htm

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August 19th, 2014What I saw in Quebecby Marie Dudzik

As Americans, the progressive version of history we are taught in schools wants us to believe that our ancestors were glad to throw off the shackles of the Old World. The Pilgrims were forced out of their homeland and the colonists of New England were happy to give good riddance to King George and old England. But the Canadian province of Quebec tells another story, one of a people so proud and enamored of their European homeland that they sought to create an extension of France, a New France, as Quebec was once called. I found this out first hand this July as I travelled to Quebec on a pilgrimage. Our chaplain was newly-ordained Fr. Nathan Caswell, SJC, a priest of the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius in Chicago and Canadian transplant.

     Willa Cather writes in her novel about the early settlers of Quebec, Shadows on the Rock:

When an adventurer carries his gods with him into a remote and savage country, the colony he founds will, from the beginning, have graces, traditions, riches of the mind and spirit. Its history will shine with bright incidents, slight, perhaps, but precious, as in life itself, where the great matters are often as worthless as astronomical distances, and the trifles dear as the heart’s blood.

     The original settlers of Quebec brought those graces, traditions, riches of the mind and spirit, and have left them behind for the modern traveler to discover. There are the beautiful cathedrals and chapels, the hospitals and schools, and the solid fortress-like wall that still surrounds Quebec City. These are the buildings that make visitors from the United States say going to Quebec is like going to Europe without the jet lag. But for those who are not just visitors but pilgrims, there is more to see, and that takes using more than just the eyes. What I saw in Quebec was a place that was built by those who were proudly French and fiercely Catholic. It is not just the buildings that make Quebec special, it is the people who founded and built the settlements that grew into towns and cities. Their spirit still remains for those who care to see, and it was a French, and therefore Catholic spirit. Willa Cather gives us the source of this spirit:

The Ursulines and the Hospitalieres, indeed, were scarcely exiles. When they came across the Atlantic, they brought their family with them, their kindred, their closest friends. In whatever little wooden vessel they had laboured across the sea, they carried all; they brought to Canada the Holy Family, the saints and martyrs, the glorious company of the Apostles, the heavenly host.

Our pilgrimage took us through a relatively small area of Quebec, from Montreal up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City, but that area was packed with history and homage to that Church the settlers brought to Canada. When on pilgrimage it is customary to ask before going into a church or building, “What are we going to see here?” But on this journey, the question became, “Who are we going to meet here?” It was not a collection of places, but a collection of saints we encountered, a Canadian litany: St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the Jesuit martyrs St. Isaac Jogues, St. John de Brebeuf and St. Charles Garnier, St. Marie of the Incarnation, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, St. Bishop Francois de Laval, St. Andre Bessette, Blessed Catherine of Saint Augustine and Blessed Frederic Janssoone.

There were old friends there too. St. Anne guides sailors safely into harbor, St. Joseph watches over the city of Montreal from the Oratory St. Andre built in his honor on Mont Royal, and the Blessed Virgin is honored as one who helps in time of trial as Our Lady of Bon Secours, as Our Lady of the Cape watching over the St. Lawrence, and as the patroness of multiple churches, cathedrals, and basilicas named in her honor.

With so great a cloud of witness around us, one might think that Quebec is the last bastion of Christendom in North America. Not so. Quebec is still part of the progressive, politically correct experiment that is Canada, and we were told stories of churches being converted into condos or shops. They were not demolished; their architecture was precious in the eyes of the city planners, but not in the hearts of those who should have been worshipping there. In that respect too, it is like Europe without the jet lag: beautiful buildings originally built for the glory of God but now used only for the pleasure of man.

Someone on the pilgrimage commented that Montreal was livable because it was a vibrant city; the sacred and profane seemed quite content together, but Quebec City was too touristy to be taken seriously. Quebec City is, in its way a relic: its UNESCO status has frozen it in time, and many come to look, to walk the cobblestones, to peer over the ancient walls, and muse on it as a quaint souvenir before returning to their plugged-in and plastic world. But despite the losses, the heart of New France is still faintly beating, both in the big city and in the midst of ye olde towne. It is there with the few who pass the tourists in the churches and make their way to the spots cordoned off for prayer. It is there in the smiles and greetings of people who saw Fr. Nathan walking the cobblestones in a cassock, perhaps the first time they had ever seen a priest habited so. It is there in the early-morning procession to an adoration chapel, modern workers singing an ancient Latin hymn, spending time with Our Lord before spending time at the office.

Evelyn Waugh commented that good cigars, fine wine, and beautiful houses are the fringe benefits of civilization. To me that means the enjoyable things of life, of culture, and specifically of Western Culture come only after the heavy lifting of creating, perpetuating, and defending that culture is done. Quebec looks like Europe because that’s what the settlers created it to be. What we see today as tourists are those fringe benefits the French settlers brought with them. What we needed to see as pilgrims was the heavy lifting that went on to create those lovely cities on the banks of St. Lawrence and acknowledge the burden that we need to shoulder today to keep that culture alive.

Fr. Nathan spoke of this in his homily during the last Mass of our pilgrimage. He said we must be missionaries in our own land, just as those saints and blesseds we met spent their lives bringing Christ to those they met. There is still much heavy lifting to do in our own homes and lives. In a real way we are still adventurers living in a remote and savage country, and in addition to the rosaries, the holy cards, and the blessed oil we needed to bring back with us the courage of the Jesuits like Jogues and Brebeuf, the abandonment to Providence of Marie of the Incarnation, and the countercultural witness of Kateri Tekakwitha.

We moderns live off the capital of our ancestors. In Quebec City the horse-drawn carriages carry tourists down the narrow cobblestone streets where they end the day with a luxurious dinner and a pleasant sleep at a quality hotel, enjoying a view an original settler would be at home with. But we can’t expect to spend capital forever. Without paying back into the fund of culture we are destined to usher in a new Dark Age. There is no feasting without fast days. There is no contented sleep without times of watchful prayer. There are no beautiful churches without priests to offer sacrifice and faithful to assist. The pilgrimage is over, but we are all still pilgrims working our way towards our homeland and trying to bring along with us as many as we can. In our modern wilderness, we can use the words of Fr. Brebeuf’s Christmas hymn for Canadian natives to let all know that they are called to share in that homeland that is heaven: “O children of the forest free,/O sons of Manitou,/The holy child of earth and heav’n/Is born today for you./Come kneel before the radiant boy, Who brings you beauty, peace, and joy:/Jesus your King is born,/Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.”

All the saints and blessed of Quebec, pray for us!

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August 19th, 2014You Can’t “Program” Salvationby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



In Flannery O'Connor's short stories, the grace of God is shown to operate in shocking and disturbing ways.  For Flannery, the door to salvation opens the moment our own selfish walls are cracked (usually violently), allowing God's grace to rush in - along with horror and remorse, which are aspects of Awe and of the Fear of God.  Indeed, horror and remorse can quite literally be the closet we come on this earth to experiencing God's love.

For instance, in her story "The Comforts of Home", at the climax of the action, the protagonist Thomas aims a gun at "the slut", a disturbed and enticing young woman who has invaded the carefully controlled and circumscribed arena of his home, where he lives alone with his mother.  For Thomas, "the comforts of home" are the greatest good.  He has a "program", which is to eliminate from his young life anything spontaneous, anything unpredictable, anything that his own narrow and selfish ego can not control.

Thomas fired.  The blast was like a sound meant to bring an end to evil in the world.  Thomas heard it as a sound that would shatter the laughter of sluts until all shrieks were stilled and nothing was left to disturb the peace of perfect order.


But you can't "bring an end to evil in the world", and certainly not with the barrel of a gun, and indeed not with any "program".  Thomas learns that as soon as he fires the pistol ... but I won't ruin the ending of the story for you.  Nor can you force upon your life "the peace of perfect order" - for such a peace is never a man-made thing.

The reason we can't defeat evil with a mere program or find true peace with a mere programmatic approach to salvation is that God is not the dead idol crafted by our own hands that we typically make Him out to be.

And this has a lot to do with the messed up world of Catholic Dating.  But I'll explain that in a minute.

***

In O'Connor's story "The Lame shall Enter First", the protagonist, Sheppard, is a social worker, and an atheist.  He believes that evil can be eliminated through reason.  His faith is in telescopes, microscopes, evolution and the program.  For him, the program is an institutionalized form of love, a kind of heartless charity that selflessly seeks to build a paradise of "perfect order" by means of caring for those who are suffering with a kind of condescending concern, the genuine but rather thin concern of a social worker.

As part of this program, Sheppard allows a troubled teenage juvenile delinquent to move in with him and his ten-year-old son (his son is someone Sheppard entirely neglects).  But this delinquent, for all his troubles, is the closest we come to a Christ figure in the story.  Ironically, Sheppard (who doesn't believe in Jesus) sees himself as a kind of Jesus, a kind of benign selfless deity, when in reality he is supremely selfish in his devotion to the program, which is meant ultimately to serve his own narrow ends, though he can't see that until the very end of the tale.

In an early confrontation between Sheppard's son, who defends his father, and the troubled teen, who's recently moved in, the reader, at least, begins to perceive this, and we see it through the perceptive eyes of Johnson, the delinquent.

"He's good," [the son] mumbled.  "He helps people."
"Good!" Johnson said savagely.  He thrust his head forward.  "Listen here," he hissed, "I don't care if he's good or not.  He ain't right!"


In many ways, that's what I've been saying about the Devout Christian community in these series of posts.   They're good but they ain't right - meaning, among other things, right in the head.

Michael Lichens comments on Facebook ...

I grew up as an Evangelical when "I Kissed Dating Good-Bye" was added to the canon. I still remember being turned down for a coffee date because, in the woman's own words, she wasn't sure if I was the one God wanted her to marry. My reaction was something like, "Dude, I just want to get coffee and maybe see a Chris Farley movie."
The result: many of the guys in my youth group days remain unmarried or got divorced and many more are quite jaded. Courtship was promised as a panacea but it ended up not correcting the problems of secular culture while adding some new and fun problems of its own. The only thing it seemed to do was placate paranoid parents for a few years. 
I also went to a small Catholic college where the vast majority of the kids were homeschooled and found that this stupid Evangelical fad had been adopted in some Catholic homes wherein girls would even tell potential men that they needed to call their dad before a drink could be consumed with the young lady. Just bloody weird.


"Just bloody weird" means (in Flannery O'Connor short story speak) "they're good but they ain't right."

Why is this?  Why is it that devout Catholics or devout Protestants, who are certainly serious about their faith, end up missing the mark so badly in their contrived efforts to be good?  Why do they end up being sort of good, but never quite right?  Why, just a few weeks ago on this very blog, did I choose the primary advice I was giving to my newly Catholic friend Dave Treadway, a devout former evangelical I was sponsoring into full communion with the Church, to be this ...

The Spirit of Unreality is the greatest threat to devout Catholics these days - the temptation to make God and His Church into a kind of idol, something that we can control and make use of for our own narrow ends. 


Why?

It's because we trust more in our program than we do in the grace of God.  The grace of God is disturbing and unpredictable.  It's alive and shocking.  It calls us out of our comfort zones and sometimes makes our precious little plans fall entirely to pieces.

This is not to say that God operates without His own program.  But his program is a living and awesome thing.  God does not challenge evil by shooting at it with a gun, in order to "shatter the laughter of sluts until all shrieks" are stilled.  When God loves, it's a love that goes far deeper than that of an atheist social worker, who believes that a disembodied charity can lead to a man-made New Jerusalem on earth.

After all, there are limits to the carefully controlled and programmed or programmatic love that the social worker shows his client / son, as we learn in a scene where the teen confronts his Sheppard, the boy (Johnson) lying in bed, his face turned against the wall in anguish ...

"You make out like you got all this confidence in me!" a sudden outraged voice cried, "and you ain't got any!  You don't trust me no more now than you did then!"  The voice, disembodied, seemed to come more surely from the depths of Johnson than when his face was visible.  It was a cry of reproach, edged slightly with contempt.
"I do have confidence in you," Sheppard said intensely.  "I have every confidence in you.  I believe in you and I trust you completely."



... but he doesn't.  And in many ways he shouldn't, at least in the context of the story's plot.  But the point here is that his love isn't really real - there's an Unreality there.  It doesn't go as deep as it should.

And, symbolically, when Johnson confronts Sheppard, it's Jesus confronting us sinners.

We protest, we devout Christians - we protest loudly - that we do indeed trust Our Lord and His disturbing presence among us.  But, when we get right down to it, do we really?

In one of her essays, Flannery hit the nail on the head, when she described us as closet Manicheans who are convinced that grace cannot penetrate fallen nature ("The old heresy of secular vs. sacred," as Reilly Washburn identifies it).  Some of my readers objected to that assessment, but if we really believed that grace could operate in nature, we would believe that even something as ordinary and simple as coffee and a Chris Farley movie did not have to be guarded against with a kind of spiritual prophylactic; we would not think that Eros was Satanic or that (as Christopher West suggests) a couple should only marry once they can "love" without feeling sexually attracted to one another.

If we trusted God and believed that His grace could operate in and redeem nature - in fact if we could open our eyes and see that it was doing so all the time all around us - then we could also trust that coffee and a movie and other ordinary things could open up to us gifts of life and God's surprises that we ourselves need not program, orchestrate or stage manage the life out of.

"Do not quench the Spirit," Paul tells us (1 Thes. 5:19).

But we do that all the time, we devout Christians.

Perhaps it's because we think that sin is the center of the story, when that's not the case at all.

But more on that later ...





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August 18th, 2014Inaugural Lecture in Nashvilleby Joseph Pearce

Next week, on Thursday, August 28, I will be giving my inaugural lecture as Director of the Center for Faith & Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville. The title of my talk will be "The Evangelizing Power of Beauty: Converting the Culture". If you live in the Nashville area or know people in the area, please try to attend and promote the event. Here are the full details:

 http://www.aquinascollege.edu/calendar-event/joseph-pearce-evangelizing-power-beauty-converting-culture/

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August 18th, 2014Who is Man?by Joseph Pearce

Continuing my current preoccupation with questioning the definitive meaning of the most important things, such as civilization and Christendom, I continue this week with one of the most crucial of all questions: Who is Man?

Read on: http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/08/man.html

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August 17th, 2014Alfred Hitchcock on Faith and Moralsby Daniel J. Heisey

In December, 2012, Father Mark Henninger, S. J., wrote in The Wall Street Journal about his experience in early 1980 celebrating Mass at the home of Alfred Hitchcock.  Father Henninger sought to correct recent statements claiming that to the end of his days Hitchcock (1899-1980) was not religious.  Yet, Hitchcock had grown up Catholic, attended a school run by Jesuits, and had been married and buried within the context of the Catholic Mass.

As Father Henninger pointed out, Hitchcock had helped to create the impression that he was not a religious man.  Apparently to preserve his privacy, Hitchcock publicly rejected claims that he had a priest come to his house for the sacraments.  In his book-length interview with François Truffaut, published in English in1967, Hitchcock had said, “I am definitely not anti-religious; perhaps I’m sometimes neglectful.”

The setting was Truffaut asking Hitchcock, “How do you feel about being labeled a Catholic artist?”  Hitchcock had replied, “I don’t think I can be labeled a Catholic artist, but it may be that one’s early upbringing influences a man’s life and guides his instinct.”  Later on he explained that “my love of film is far more important to me than any considerations of morality.”

It is an understandable reaction:  an artist wants to be known for his art.  Would one ask Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo whether they wanted to be thought of as Catholic artists?  However much Catholic faith and culture permeates their work, the work comes first.  Nearly always when the religious sense is put first, the art suffers.

For Hitchcock, that principle seems to have informed his dissatisfaction with his movie I Confess (1953).  Probably the most obvious example of Hitchcock using film to explore Catholic themes, it focuses on a young Canadian priest, a veteran of the Second World War, who has heard the confession of a murderer and is then framed by the murderer.  Hitchcock was intrigued by the dilemma, since the priest could not violate the seal of the confessional.  Protestant and secular critics, however, thought the premise far-fetched, and Hitchcock told Truffaut, “we shouldn’t have made the picture.”

Truffaut rightly disagreed with Hitchcock about I Confess, but let us consider a less obvious case.  In March, 1963, Alfred Hitchcock told an interviewer from The New Yorker that of all his films his favorite was Shadow of a Doubt (1943), yet around the same time, when speaking with Truffaut, he said that it was not his favorite, while not saying which movie did hold that honor.  Whether it really was his favorite film, it marks the first time Hitchcock used an American location for looking into what Truffaut called the three basic elements making up any film by Hitchcock:  “fear, sex, and death.”

In Shadow of a Doubt, a man is on the run after having killed several wealthy widows.  He travels across the country from New York to Santa Rosa and hides in the home of his sister and brother-in-law.  The latter, a mild-mannered bank clerk, has a hobby of reading murder mysteries.  Irony and tension build, and suspicion comes closer and closer to the murderer.  “It’s quite possible,” Hitchcock told Truffaut, “that those widows deserved what they got, but it certainly wasn’t his job to do it.”

That same message occurs near the end of Hitchcock’s film Rope (1948).  There, the character portrayed by James Stewart tells one of the two young murderers, “Until this very moment, this world and the people in it have always been dark and incomprehensible to me, and I’ve tried to clear my way with logic and superior intellect . . . , but now I know we’re each of us a separate human being with the right to live and work and think as individuals, but with an obligation to the society we live in.”

Truffaut noted that in Hitchcock’s movies there was always the pervasive role of the idea of original sin.  Although a recurring theme in Hitchcock’s films is that of an innocent man suspected of a crime he did not commit, Truffaut saw that “he is generally guilty of intention before the fact.”  As an example, he cited the voyeur played by James Stewart in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).

When talking about his schooldays, Hitchcock told Truffaut about his odd situation and about the moral sense he developed.  “Ours was a Catholic family,” he said, “and in England, you see, this in itself is an eccentricity.”  At Saint Ignatius College, “a strong sense of fear developed—moral fear—the fear of being involved in anything evil.”  He transformed that Catholic eccentricity and that fear of evil into some of the finest films ever made.

In all his cinematic work, Alfred Hitchcock was deeply concerned about human integrity.  How someone dealt with temptations and trials was what made a story interesting.  In theological terms, not only was original sin a factor, so was free will.  All of us face such scenarios to a greater or lesser degree every day, but rarely do they reach a level worthy of a tale of suspense.  As Hitchcock often said, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”

One day, before offering Mass at Hitchcock’s home, Father Henninger asked Hitchcock if he had seen any good movies lately.  Hitchcock said no, adding, “When I made movies, they were about people, not robots.  Robots are boring.  Come on, let’s have Mass.”

Robots bore because, even if they find working with humans very stimulating, they lack the human capacity for love, sin, and redemption.  They share no nature with Christ.  According to Father Henninger, during those Masses at his home, Hitchcock gave the responses in Latin, and, the dull bits of life cutting out of the theo-drama, upon receiving Communion “he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.”

 

 

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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August 17th, 2014Iraq—The Failure of Modernityby Stephen Brady

Is ISIS, the fanatical Islamist militia currently advancing across the ruins of Iraq and Syria beheading and crucifying “infidels” a throwback to the Dark Ages? Or is it instead an aspect of the very Western “modernity” the US and its allies sought to bring to the region by armed force? Is that “modernity”, indeed, quite what its advocates think it is?

Those are the challenging questions raised by John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics in his essay broadcast in July on the BBC radio programme A Point of View, the text of which is available here:

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28246732


Professor Gray is a leading critic of what he terms “the Enlightenment project”, the idea, famously encapsulated by Francis Fukuyama in his 1992 work The End of History and the Last Man, of the inevitable global triumph of free-market globalist liberal democracy.

 

In this essay the good Professor argues compellingly that ISIS – or the Islamic State, IS, as it has now rebranded itself, perhaps conscious of the irony of the self-proclaimed vanguard of radical Islam advancing under the name of an ancient Egyptian pagan goddess – beneath its 7th Century trappings, is “in many respects thoroughly modern”.

 

Prof. Gray notes how efficiently IS uses the methods and technology of a 21st Century corporation. As he notes:

Like al-Qaeda before them, these jihadists have organised themselves as a highly efficient company. Initially funded by donations from wealthy supporters, they've rapidly expanded into a self-financing business. Through kidnapping and extortion, looting and selling antiquities, siphoning off oil in territories they conquer, seizing gold bullion and other assets from banks and acquiring large quantities of American military hardware in the course of their advance, Isis has become the wealthiest jihadist organisation in the world. According to some estimates, it's worth well over $2bn.

 

As others as well as he have noted, IS uses social media with an adroitness a corporate advertising department can only envy. Bloody threats and glorious victories are tweeted frequently and posted on Facebook (no doubt getting lots of “likes” in Islamabad and Luton) and beheadings, crucifixions and massacres of prisoners put up promptly on YouTube. The Islamist terror group also diligently and publicly documents mergers and acquisitions with and of other Islamist groups and tribal militias, and keeps firm and well-documented control of its balance sheet. Slick regular corporate reports are posted on the Internet, detailing each month’s beheadings and suicide bombings, thus keeping the shareholders – the wealthy Saudi and Gulf sheiks who originally bankrolled the organisation – abreast of headcount and how many bangs they are getting for their buck.

 

As Professor Gray perspicaciously observes, “There's nothing mediaeval about this mix of ruthless business enterprise, well-publicised savagery and transnational organised crime.”

 

But, he goes on to argue, IS’s modernity goes deeper than that. “Though (IS leader) al-Baghdadi constantly invokes the early history of Islam, the society he envisions has no precedent in history. It's much more like the impossible state of utopian harmony that western revolutionaries have projected into the future. Some of the thinkers who developed radical Islamist ideas are known to have been influenced by European anarchism and communism, especially by the idea that society can be reshaped by a merciless revolutionary vanguard using systematic violence. The French Jacobins and Lenin's Bolsheviks, the Khmer Rouge and the Red Guards all used terror as a way of cleansing humanity of what they regarded as moral corruption. ISIS shares more with this modern revolutionary tradition than any ancient form of Islamic rule”


Professor Gray might indeed have gone on to point out that this revolutionary tradition itself sprang ultimately from one aspect of what he himself dubbed “the Enlightenment project”. In this case the hubristic humanist idea that, if human nature is determined by human society, when the Perfect Society can be created it willipso facto achieve the Perfection of Man. Indeed, said Perfect Society is the natural human condition, if only mankind was liberated from wicked oppressors holding them back.

 

As history has shown, what the revolutionaries actually ended up doing, when their achievement of power failed in itself to achieve the expected dawning of Utopia, was wading in human blood trying to impose by force the widely varying ideas of Social Perfection each fanatic revolutionary sect had come to espouse, always ending in failure and some very unpleasant demonstrations of the innate moral weaknesses of humanity when left to its own devices.

 

But the good Professor does go on to drop a douche of icy water on the complacency of those smug Westerners who no doubt would have been happily nodding along to his argument thus far. For he points out that the Islamic state owes its rise, as well as its strategy and ideology, to another offshoot of the very same Enlightenment Project: “Western military intervention gave Isis its chance of power. While Saddam was in charge, there were no jihadist movements operating in Iraq - none at all. With all the crimes Saddam's dictatorship committed, it was a regime that applied secular law and had made some steps towards emancipating women.” It also respected the country’s ancient Christian communities, protecting them from persecution – indeed Saddam’s deputy, Tariq Aziz, was a Christian. Professor Gray continues: “In my view, toppling Saddam was bound to unravel this secular state and the Iraqi state itself.”  As we now observe it has unravelled, very thoroughly…

 

Why was this toppling done? The Professor is sceptical about cynicism here – he believes that it was not all about Iraq’s oil. Western leaders, unfortunately, also had nobler motives: “The politicians and opinion-formers who clamoured for the invasion believed that all modern societies are evolving towards a single form of government - the type that exists in western countries. If only tyranny was swept away in Iraq, the country would move towards democracy and the rest of the Middle East would follow. Until just a few months ago, some were convinced that a similar process could take place in Syria.”

 

As events have demonstrated, this isn’t exactly what actually happened, nor was it remotely likely to happen. As the Professor was saying long before Operation Iraqi Freedom, whose fruits the people of that unhappy country are now enjoying, was launched: “this has never been more than an ideological fantasy. The modern world isn't evolving in any single direction. Liberal democracy is only one of several possible destinations.”

 

Indeed. Professor Gray could have gone on to make the point explicitly that Messrs Bush and Blair shared with Herr Marx and Gospodin Lenin the same delusion that if only “the people” could be “set free”, if the tyrants could be toppled or the expropriators expropriated, mankind would at once rush rejoicing into an Earthly Paradise, be that one of perfect communism or perfect free market liberal democracy, a delusion that is rooted in the same 18th Century soi-disant Enlightenment from which both Marxism and Liberalism sprang. Perhaps this is why many of the arch-cheerleaders of imposing “freedom” at the point of a cruise missile and a drone strike, the neo-cons, found their own personal metamorphosis from one to the other so unproblematic.

 

Professor Gray has put his finger on the deep implication of that Enlightenment delusion as it unravels in the disaster now unfolding across the Middle East. Two decades after it was published, Mr Fukuyama’s thesis of the inevitable triumph of global free-market liberal democracy, “The End of History and the Last Man”, lies in ruins. It has inspired a train of events unleashing massacres, murders and sectarian slaughters that have indeed made some local progress towards achieving the Last Man. But people remain people, obstinately clinging each to their own beliefs and cultures, and History stubbornly refuses to End.

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August 17th, 2014Muzak for the Spiritby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



I have been on the road with my actress Maria and her husband for a while now.  We are ending up a tour of nine shows in ten days in four states.

Today we find ourselves in a small town in Minnesota off the interstate.  We made the mistake of going to Sunday Mass, as we are obliged to.

This is always a crap shoot.  Why, in the universal Catholic Church that Christ founded, is it such a risk to go to Mass at an unfamiliar parish?  But it always is.  Today we rolled the dice and got a pair of snake eyes.

The church was new and the artwork in the narthex ugly, except for the old historical stuff from the old beautiful church that has since been torn down.

But the atmosphere!  Atmosphere is a difficult thing to describe.  The atmosphere from beginning to end in the Mass and everything associated with it was suburban, insipid, bland, uninspiring, contrived, and gay (in the worst sense of that word).  The homily was not really heterodox, not really orthodox - just kind of fuzzy and flaccid.

But there was one real moment.  When the congregation prayed the Our Father, I closed my eyes, and you could hear the genuineness of that prayer.  These people were praying that prayer, with a unity and an earnestness.  This was the one moment when heaven and earth were palpably together at that Mass.

Of course there's always that other moment when heaven and earth come together at Mass - the consecration and the communion that follows: and that transcends any inept nonsense on our part.  But right there in this shopping mall parish as communion began, the intense and creepy piano player (who's apparently the "music minister") began ad libbing pop fills on the keyboard.  Loudly.  So that you could neither pray nor focus on anything else.  And the message of the music was: this is not threatening, everything is comfortable, everything is indistinguishable, this life devoid of passion is the omega point of creation - this lame and soggy existence is the nirvana that all "persons" have sought.  Resistance is futile.  It was muzak for the spirit.  And it came at the most intimate part of the Mass.

I left the building, skipped communion (I was in no shape to receive it at that point), but returned when the music had stopped and stayed in the narthex for the blessing and dismissal.

And as we left I thought, is it any wonder that the Church these days seems powerless in the face of evil - small evil or great evil?  Is it any wonder that something like what I just experience has no hold on the hearts or minds of anyone, or any normal person?  Is it any wonder that bishops enable pedophiles when the greatest single moment in the lives of any of us - communion with God - can be trivialized and emasculated in this way?

I would rant more, but it's time to head to Iowa for tonight's show.  Pray for us and pray for our Church.

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August 15th, 2014Islam, Jihad, and the Massacre of Christiansby Brendan D. King

The current massacre of Iraqi Christians by adherents of Radical Islam has caused a great deal of speculation about what kind of religious believer could commit such acts. Whenever I have been asked this question, I am forced to remind people that it has happened before -- almost a century ago and in the same part of the world.

During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire, though officially a constitutional monarchy, was actually governed by a political party known as the Ittihad-ve Terriki, or Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). The CUP's platform was a mixture of Turkish racial supremacy, Classical Liberalism, and Radical Islam. Christians and Non-Turkish Muslims were to have no place in the Greater Turkey which the CUP dreamed of building. When the Ottoman Empire entered the Great War as an ally of Imperial Germany, the Christian Armenians of Constantinople made no secret of their sympathy for the Allied Powers.

On the night of April 24, 1915, the CUP arrested 250 Armenian cultural leaders and ordered their deportation to Der Zor, a region of the Syrian Desert which was to be the killing fields of what is still called the Armenian Genocide. The deportees included writers and statesmen, poets and composers, Marxists and priests. Among their number was Father (later Bishop) Grigoris Balakian, a "Vartaped,"or celibate priest of the Armenian Apostolic Church. But the deportation of the intellectuals was only the prelude to the planned extermination of every Armenian in the Ottoman Empire and the lands it planned to annex. By the end of the Great War, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians had been murdered. For this reason, Armenians throughout the world still commemorate April 24 as a day of mourning.

In 2009, when Bishop Balakian's memoir of the Genocide finally appeared in English, His Grace was instantly compared with Holocaust survivors Eli Wiesel and Primo Levi and GULAG survivors Nadezhda Mandelstam and Evgenia Ginzburg. As I continue to pace my way through the Bishop's searing account, I can also attest that it is truly a masterpiece.

For this reason, I have chosen to share a part of his memoir which, I believe, sheds the most light upon the mindset of the perpetrators of both the Armenian Genocide and of the current massacres in Iraq. Be forewarned that if you continued to read, you will be deeply disturbed. What follows has much in common with a Hannibal Lecter movie. Should you decide to stop reading, I will not be in the least offended.

Lest you be inclined to blame all Muslims for the behavior of those described, be aware that other parts of the Bishop's memoir describes encounters with Muslims -- both Turks and Kurds -- who fought to save Armenian lives. He also describes encounters with "Christian" Armenians who willingly collaborated with the executioners of their own people. By doing so, they not only survived, but profited considerably.

Well, without further ado, here is the account in the Bishop's own words. May Our Lord and Our Lady grant Eternal Memory to those who have Fallen Asleep!

From, "Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918," By Grigoris Balakian. Translated by Peter Balakian and Aris Sevag. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2009.

Pages 134-135.

"From Yozgat to Boghazlian: The Skulls."

There is a Turkish village on the road to Boghazlian, two hours from Yozgat. There Shukri, the Captain of the Yozgat police soldiers, a sixty-five year old man, had been waiting for us since morning with eleven mounted police soldiers. Our carriage drivers, who assumed that we were going to be killed under this bridge, ordered those of us to get out and remove our goods. Having collected double their fees in advance, they then lashed their horses and galloped off in the opposite direction. All of us were stupefied by this inexplicable action. We then gathered up our goods, which had been dumped from the carriages, and after much hardship, we arrived, covered in mud, at the village, where the Captain and his police soldiers were waiting for us. Captain Shukri took command of our caravan from the police soldiers who had accompanied us from Choroum, and received the blacklist of our names and other official documents.

After checking to make sure that no one on the list was missing, Captain Shukri made us set out without giving us the least respite. Instead of escorting us to Boghazlian, as we had hoped, he and his men took us to a Turkish village where no one would sell us any milk, yoghurt, eggs, or bread, not even at a premium. Anxious about the hostility of the villagers, we spent a sleepless night...

Page 136.

On our second day along the Yozgat-Boghazlian route, we saw, in the fields on both sides of the road, the first decomposed human skeletons and even more skulls; long hair was still attached to them, leaving no doubt that they belonged to females.

Among our companions were young Armenian intellectuals of Constantinople. They often bent down to pick up these skulls and kiss them tearfully. After all, these were the sacred remains of our mothers and sisters who had been martyred. Captain Shukri of the Yozgat police soldiers , who personally escorted us along these most dangerous and bloody roads, road beside me for a few hours, during which I time I became rather friendly with him (to the extent that the wolf and the lamb can be friendly). He exhorted me, "Murahhasa effendi, tell your people not to give way to emotion -- picking up skulls they come accross and kissing them. They don't know that that same fate awaits them a little further on."

Naturally, I warned my companions to refrain from such imprudent acts. Although our days were numbered, we endeavored as much as possible, with trust in God, to drive away thoughts of death. We were proceeding along roads where the slightest ill-advised or careless step could become the cause of our instant death. Shukri was so cruel that he wouldn't deign to speak to any other member of our caravan. It was just by good fortune that I was able in a few hours to win his favor, and so we kept riding together, conversing about various topics...

"The Confessions of the Slayer Captain."

Pages 139-146.

I wished to take advantage of the rare goodwill that was shown to me by Captain Shukri, to learn more about the major uncertainties facing us. Trying to be discreet, I asked him, "Bey, where have all these human bones along this road come from?"

The Captain pointed to the deep valley before us and answered, "These are the bones of Armenians who were killed in August and September. The order had come from Constantinople. Even though the Minister of the Interior had huge ditches dug for the corpses, the winter floods washed the dirt away, and now the bones are everywhere, as you see."

"Are these the bones of the Armenian deportees who came from far-off places," I asked, "or are these the bones of Armenians from this area?"

"Do you see this road? Aside from the first caravan of Armenians in July, no other caravans have traversed this road and survived."

"Shukri Bey, in your opinion, how many Armenians were massacred upon these roads that we have traveled? As Captain of the Yozgat police soldiers, you must know."

He replied, "Now its not a secret anymore; about 86,000 Armenians were massacred. We, too, were surprised, because the Government didn't know there was such a great Armenian population in the province of Ankara. However, this includes a few thousand other Armenians from surrounding provinces who were deported on these roads. They were put on this road so we could cleanse them."

"Paklayalum" was the word for "cleanse"; the Turks always used this term, especially the Government officials, when referring to the massacres of Armenians.

"Upon whose orders were the massacres of Armenians committed?"

"The orders came from the Ittihad [Party] Central Committe and the Interior Ministry in Constantinople. This order was carried out most severely by Kemal [District Governor] of Boghazlian and Vixe-Governor of Yozgat. When Kemal, a native of Van, heard that the Armenians had massacred all his family members at the time of the Van revolt, he sought revenge and massacred the women and children, together with the men."

"So where were the women in these areas of Yozgat massacres? I ask this because we had heard that while the men were massacred, the women were spared. We had heard that the beautiful virgins and young brides were taken by those who desired them for their harems, while the elderly women were driven to Der Zor. Did it happen this way in your [Province], too?"

"It didn't, because, as I said, the [District Governor] of Boghazlian was so enraged over the murder of his family during the Van rebellion in April 1915, that he had no concern for appearances and had the women and children, even the suckling infants massacred. He was said to have said; 'I have made a vow on the honor of the Prophet: I shall not leave a single Armenian alive in the [Province] of Yozgat.'"

I asked Shukri Bey how the women and girls of Yozgat were massacred, but just then, one of the police soldiers, a corporal, having noticed something down the road, came over to ask the Captain for instructions, and our conversation was interrupted.

 

...He was candid with me, as he himself stated, because he was convinced that none of us would survive... In order to win his favor, I told him that I had always been a Turcophile and that I had been exiled from Constantinople because I had been mistaken for a revolutionary with the same name. I even told him that I had been decorated by Sultan Hamid himself. I criticized the extremist acts of the Armenian Revolutionary Committees and told him that the Armenian Revolutionaries were the sole cause of our misfortunes.

I seem to have succeeded in winning Captain Shukri over, because he said to me... "Murahhasa effendi, even if I am not able to rescue your companions from the murderous mob, I'll save you, as long as you convert to Islam. I want this to be understood." Whatever proposal I made, I responded affirmatively: I even demonstrated my knowledge of the Koran, which delighted him.

...A half hour later, when we started riding together again, I resumed our conversation, "Bey, why did you commit massacres on the main roads? Wouldn't it have been easier to have done it in the hidden valleys?"

He replied, "The massacres weren't committed on these roads. As I mentioned, it was the winter floods that scattered these bones and skulls all over the roads. Do you see the mill in this valley facing us?" He pointed to it. "There's a story I'll tell you about it." In a half hour our caravan reached the mill and I spurred my horse to catch up to the Captain and asked him to tell his story.

"It was precisely here," the Captain continued, "that the search of the women of Yozgat took place."

"Bey, tell me about it so we might pass the time."

He did so: "There's no reason to hide it... It was eight months ago, after all, and these stories were getting around... The news has even reached Europe. The German Embassy was so upset that they rebuked our Government, and orders came from Constantinople telling us to cease the massacres. Nevertheless, after we had massacred all the males of the city of Yozgat-- about eight thousand to nine thousand of them in the valleys near these sites, it was the women's turn. So two months later Governor Mehmet Kemal summoned the town criers and had them make the following announcement: 'Inasmuch as your husbands have arrived safely in Aleppo and presented a petition to the local Governor General requesting that their families be brought to Aleppo, too, the mutasarrif is giving you a three day period to make the necessary preparations for a long journey and then wait for the signal to depart...'

"Upon this official announcement, made by Turkish town criers throughout the city, the Armenian women rejoiced and briskly made preparations for the road. Many of them, as though going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, even made sweets ... and arranged them in tin boxes to take to their husbands in Aleppo. Then after the three days had passed, we had them all depart, some by carriage, some by cart, and the poor ones on foot."

"Do you remember what the number of carriages and carts was?"

"I would say that there were 280 horse drawn carriages, 550 ox drawn carts; so all together we had about 830 carriages and carts."

..."To whom was the caravan assigned for transport to Aleppo?"

"The caravans were always assigned to me because I was the police soldiers commander and familiar with this region. When this large caravan with about eighty police soldiers reached the three mills, in this valley four to five hours from town, I gave the order to the police soldier officers to rest at this spot. I then ordered all the carriage and cart drivers to leave the families there and return to their villages. Then I had thirty to fifty midwives come in from town to begin a rigorous inspection. Every woman, girl, and boy was searched down to their underwear. We collected all the gold, silver, diamond jewelry, and over valuables, as well as the gold pieces sewn into the hems of their clothes. All these women, duped into thinking that they were going to join their husbands in Aleppo, had taken with them all their valuable and movable possessions, including their valuable rugs and carpets. The Government's pretext had worked beautifully.

"Before long, we had made piles of hundreds if not thousands of gold chains, gold watches, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings with diamonds and other precious stones. We found thousands of gold pieces sewn into the women's clothes. For this reason, too, the search took so long and created such difficulty that we had to bring in new women from town to continue the effort. They found even more pieces of jewelry and gold hidden or sewn into the folds of clothes and linens."

"Shukri Bey, how many pounds of gold do you think you collected from these women and children?"

"It's difficult to say because we didn't keep a record. Whoever got hold of something kept it. If I say thirty thousand gold pounds, understand it to be sixty thousand gold pounds."

"I understand that the wealth remained in the hands of those who snatched it, but who took the largest amounts?"

"It ran the gamut, from the common police soldier to the highest Government official."

"Shukri Bey, as long as we are talking so candidly and confidentially, forgive me for asking another question. But how much wealth were you able to obtain as a result of these massacres? After all, as a police soldier Captain, you had the greatest opportunities."

"If all of it had been left to me, that would have been nice, but I sent the leather bags, filled and sealed, to the Mutasarrif in town, and there was a lot of stealing; barely half the goods reached the Government. We collected thousands of rugs and carpets and piled them up near these mills, but the police soldiers stole some of them. To be accurate, I barely got ten thousand pieces of gold or jewelry from the booty of the Armenians.

"I have been staying in Yozgat for thirty years, and although I've been offered higher positions, I didn't want to leave my birthplace and home. I'm a landowner in Yozgat and have a big family here. I'm over sixty-five now, and where am I going to go after this? I have houses, shops, and two mills in Yozgat and I'm a Muslim, [Praise Allah]. I won't lie -- I amassed great wealth from the massacres of the Armenians. But I'm old--what can I do with the wealth? My only son will enjoy it. Presently he's in Germany pursuing a military education. Let him do so."

"Bey," I said, "we wandered from your story. Can you tell me what happened to these sixty four hundred women, girls, and children?"

"Yes, you're right, I was talking about one thing and got on to something else. We continued to search the women's bodies and clothes for four days and four nights. After stripping them all of their possessions and leaving them only what they were wearing, we made them all turn back on foot to the broad promontory located near the city of Yozgat. We told them that a new Government order had come to have them return to town, and they following willingly. When we reached the promontory I pointed out yesterday, ten to twelve thousand Muslims were waiting there. They had been waiting for a day."

"Bey, may I ask--how did these common people come to know about the Government's plan for the Armenians?"

"During the time that we were searching the women, the Government officials of Yozgat sent police soldiers to all the surrounding Turkish villages and in the name of holy Jihad invited the Muslim population to participate in this sacred religious obligation...

"Thus, when we arrived at the designated site, this mass of people was waiting. The Government order was clear: all were to be massacred and nobody was to be spared. Therefore, in order to prevent any escape attempt and to thwart any secret attempts of sympathizers intent on freeing them, I had the eighty police soldiers encircle the hill, and stationed guards at every probable site for of escape or hiding.

"Then I had the police soldiers announce to the people that whoever wished to select a virgin girl or young bride could do so immediately, on the condition of taking them as wives and not with the intention of rescuing them. Making a selection during the massacre was forbidden. Thus about two hundred fifty girls and young brides were selected by the people and the police soldiers."

Then the Captain did something striking. Before continuing to tell his story of the actual massacre, he closed his eyes; in the special manner of performing ablutions, he raised his hands to his face and ran them down to his white beard as if washing up. After muttering a few prayers, he turned and said to me, "May [Allah] not show such death as this to anybody."

"Did you shoot them, or bayonet them to death?" I asked.

"It's wartime and bullets are expensive. So people grabbed whatever they could from their villages--axes, hatchets, scythes, sickles, clubs, hoes, pickaxes, shovels--and they did the killing accordingly."

It is impossible for me to convey what happened to those 6.400 defenseless women, virgins, and brides, as well as children and suckling infants. Their heartrending cries and doleful pleas brought down the deaf canopies of heaven. The police soldiers in Yozgat and Boghazlian who accompanied us would even boast to some of us about how they had committed tortures and decapitations, cut off... body parts with axes, and how they had [killed] suckling infants and children by... dashing them on rocks.

...As we rode our horses side to side, our conversation about the deportations and massacres finally reached a point where I was not longer able to restrain myself. Stiffened by this unfathomable and crushing story, I turned to Shukri, who was relating all this as if it were a children's fairy tale, and said: "But, Bey, you are an elderly Muslim. How did you have this many thousands of innocent women, girls, and children massacred without feeling any remorse or guilt, when they were neither conspirators or rebels? Won't you remain accountable for this innocent blood spilled, before Allah, the Prophet, and your conscience?"

- "Not at all," he replied. "On the contrary, I carried out my sacred and holy obligation before Allah, my Prophet, and my Caliph.. A Jihadwas proclaimed... The Sheik-ul-Islam had issued a fatwa to annihilate the Armenians as traitors to our State, and the Caliph, in turn, ratifying this fatwa, had ordered its execution... And I, as a military officers, carried out the order of my King. Killing people in war is not considered a crime now, is it?"

Following this shameless and abhorrent statement, I fell silent, because there was nothing I could say in reply to this executioner who had likened the merciless massacre of unarmed, defenseless women and infants to killing people in war. In total, he was responsible for the murder of 42,000 innocent people.

...I did not want to anger our Captain and tried to mask my contempt with humor. So I asked, "Bey, you know that we clergymen frighten people with punishments in the other world... How are you going to atone for these sins of yours in the other world?"

"Oh, very easily. I already atoned for them and didn't leave anything unsettled for the next world. As I've always done, after this massacre as well, I spread out my prayer rug and said my prayers, giving glory to Allah and to the Prophet who made me worthy of participating in the holy Jihad in these days of my old age. Many, many times a few years ago, they wanted me to retire on account of my age; it's a good thing that I didn't."

Page 148.

After we had talked for two or three hours, almost without interruption, Shukri and the police soldiers moved ahead. The lawyer Boghos Tanielian, one of the Constantinople intellectuals who was on foot, had been listening closely to our conversation, along with a few of his companions. After I was left alone, he said, "If you were an official of great authority from Constantinople, you couldn't have gotten such a confession from this criminal. I hope someday the world will hear of this-- this man who massacred forty thousand Armenians."

Pages 149-150.

On all the roads were traversed between Yozgat and Kayseri, about 80 percent of the Muslims we encountered (there were no Christians left in these parts) were wearing European clothes, bearing on their persons proof of the crimes they had committed. Indeed, it was an absurd sight: overcoats, frock coats, jackets--various men's and women's garments of the finest materials--on villagers who were also wearing sandals and traditional baggy pants. Barefoot Turkish peasant boys wore formal clothes; men sported gold chains and watches. It was reported that the women had confiscated many pieces of diamond jewelry, but as they were sequestered, we had no way of encountering them.

Although Captain Shukri carried out the criminal orders of the Ittihad Committee with gusto, as national policy, he generally spoke disparagingly of the Ittihad Leaders, especially Talaat [Pasha] and Enver [Pasha]. He often said, "These are adventurers descended from Gypsies or [converted Jews]; they do whatever crosses their minds; they don't consider the long run." In referring to the Armenian massacres, he said, "Let's see how we are going to escape the consequences of what we have done." However, these final apprehensive words he said out of fear of punishment, not contrition.  

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August 14th, 2014Nothing New about Terrorismby Dena Hunt

I received from a friend who is interested in the English Deformation a blog post by Dr. Joseph Shaw, Oxford-based, I believe, who is described as: “a Catholic academic with strong views not for those of a sensitive disposition.” Dr. Shaw writes an essay in which he compares ISIS to historical “Anglican terror.” That’s hardly a politically correct point of view, but Dr. Shaw raises some very interestingly unexpected comparative points. Not surprisingly, his essay met with pretty hostile comments. His response was to post a second essay, even less apologetic than the first.

http://www.lmschairman.org/2014/08/to-understand-isis-look-at-anglicanism.html

http://www.lmschairman.org/2014/08/anglicanism-and-isis-response-to-critics.html

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August 14th, 2014A Wizard’s Calendarby Joseph Pearce

I've just enjoyed watching a short video of StAR's artist in residence, Jef Murray, promoting his 2015 Wizard's Calendar. The experience was like stepping through a magic window into the heart of the Shire!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPX2quUYoi8&feature=youtu.be

 

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August 14th, 2014A Soul Mate from your Zip Codeby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Re. the Catholic Dating thing.  A reader wrote to suggest that by using the term "non-sexual hook-up", I could be inadvertently doing some damage, as many guys and gals who at least have friendships with one another will now begin to second-guess themselves.  "Oh no!  This could be a non-sexual hook-up!  Maybe it's not a simple friendship!  Maybe I shouldn't be enjoying myself having coffee with Mindy!"  But, then again, that's part of the problem - this eternal second-guessing.

Another reader sent me a link to a commentary by TV personality Mike Rowe, which has been making the rounds, but which is worth quoting ...

I had drinks last night with a woman I know. Let’s call her Claire. Claire just turned 42. She’s cute, smart, and successful. She’s frustrated though, because she can’t find a man. I listened all evening about how difficult her search has been. About how all the “good ones” were taken. About how her other friends had found their soul-mates, and how it wasn’t fair that she had not.

“Look at me,” she said. “I take care of myself. I’ve put myself out there. Why is this so hard?”

“How about that guy at the end of the bar,” I said. “He keeps looking at you.”

“Not my type.”

“Really? How do you know?”

“I just know.”

“Have you tried a dating site?” I asked.

“Are you kidding? I would never date someone I met online!”

“Alright. How about a change of scene? Your company has offices all over – maybe try living in another city?”

“What? Leave San Francisco? Never!”

“How about the other side of town? You know, mix it up a little. Visit different places. New museums, new bars, new theaters…?”

She looked at me like I had two heads. “Why the hell would I do that?”

Here’s the thing ... Claire doesn’t really want a man. She wants the “right” man. She wants a soul-mate. Specifically, a soul-mate from her zip code.  She assembled this guy in her mind years ago, and now, dammit, she’s tired of waiting!!

I didn’t tell her this, because Claire has the capacity for sudden violence. But it’s true. She complains about being alone, even though her rules have more or less guaranteed she’ll stay that way. She has built a wall between herself and her goal. A wall made of conditions and expectations.


Many of my devout Catholic friends have done exactly the same thing.  They're looking for a soul mate within their own zip code (so to speak) - and worse than that, within their own extended, highly specified nine-digit zip code.  They think that they must marry a devout Catholic mate.  Now, granted, religion is a crucial part of a family, and disagreements on matters of faith can be fatal, but having said that, if you're only going wading in the devout Catholic pool, you'll find there's hardly enough water to swim in.

After all, guys, if you meet a woman who loves you and she's not a devout Catholic to begin with, she'll be drawn to your faith, as it's the center of who you are as a devout Catholic man.

But more importantly, marriage is about character.  Find a mate with a good character.  Because (duh!) religion is also primarily about character - or at least it's supposed to be.  Rebirth in Christ is meant to reform our characters - eternally.

What this means is that people who are Good without being self-consciously Christian get their Goodness from Christ without knowing it.  Christ is the source of all Goodness, and all Goodness comes from Christ.  Period.  Don't fret about that.  To do so speaks of your insecurity, not God's.

And then there's the odd corollary - that most religious people are far from Good.  And sometimes a serious "devout" streak is the sign of some serious psychological issues, or at least some very bizarre character flaws.

My friend Sean Dailey observes ...

All the reeeeally devout Catholic women here, married or single, peddle Juice Plus and think that gluten is the spawn of Satan.


This gets to the fact that God's story is always bigger than our story.  There are a lot of "anonymous Christians" our there, whether that fact suits our expectations or not.

Let me illustrate this with a true story.

***

One of my actresses is an agnostic.  She's also very politically liberal and an out-of-the-closet Lesbian.  She would, therefore, be a kind of horror to many of my Devout Catholic friends.

When she was a teen (and before she started dating only women), she got pregnant - and this was back in the day when this was a rare thing.  The baby's father never publicly acknowledged his son, and never provided financial assistance to his upbringing, and my actress never pressed him for it.  For years, this man lived in the same town as my actress and their boy, and even became a pillar of his Protestant church a few blocks down the road - all the while, remaining entirely out of his son's life.

When the boy was 18 or so, his unknown father's mother was dying.  Her death bed request was that this man acknowledge his son.  So he did, and suddenly re-appeared in the life of my actress.

Now, in all this time, what had my actress been doing?  Had she spent her days bad mouthing this absentee sperm donor, as she certainly must have been tempted to do?  Had she expressed her anger and loneliness by poisoning the well, and ruining this boy's image of his missing father?  And then, when the man showed up, a kind of Christian hypocrite on her doorstep, 18 years late and thousands of dollars short, did she throw something at him and show him the door?

No, she did none of these things.  She told her son that this was his biological father, and that if he wanted to try to build a relationship with him, that was his prerogative, and she would not get in the way.

Now, dear readers, what is this an example of if not of holiness?  This agnostic Lesbian made an 18 year sacrifice out of love, and I know of very very few self-styled Christians who would even have attempted to do the same.

I've been a Catholic for 14 years, and I've never done anything that good.

***

The grace of God is active in this world in ways that we keep denying, in ways that we can't comprehend, in ways that we deliberately narrow down and truncate.

Yes, as Catholics, we have the sacraments, we have the fullness of Truth, we have the Church - but we are still sinners, still isolated individuals, still hungry for giving love and receiving love: and that's the human condition.

Don't limit God's grace.  Find Goodness where you can - and it's all over the place.  Find Truth and Beauty while you're at it, even in the places where you'd least expect it.

Throw away the Juice Plus and the gluten free pasta and venture out of your own zip code.

When Mother Teresa and her nuns would help a dying person on the streets of Calcutta, they would not stop to ask his or her religion.  They would simply love that person.

Start doing the same, and this dreadful ice will begin to thaw.



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August 14th, 2014Depression Does Not Discriminateby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

In my latest piece at The Catholic Gentlman, I go into some more details with my struggle with MDD and also try to bring home the fact that mental anguish touches a lot of people, the Catholic, the non-Catholic, and even the successful. 

Depression doesn’t give a damn about your status, vocation, race, or financial situation. Yet, neither does Christ. If we want the mentally afflicted to find the peace that surpasses all understanding, we need first to open the doors and to let it in, and that is what Christian charity ought to do.

If someone in your life is suffering mental anguish, I can tell you from experience what works and doesn’t work. Don’t try to cure them unless you are a doctor or a real wonder-worker, and for heaven’s sake do not try to tell them, “But how can you be depressed!” Instead, let them know that they do have a friend, who is willing to carry a lot of their pains if necessary, and accept it if silence is their only response. Then, pray for help and that grace will be sufficient to get them through, but be aware that you probably are called to be an instrument of that grace. It means some work, but love demands it.

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August 13th, 2014The Sign of Peaceby Fr. Simon Henry

One of the liturgical practices that has most often landed me in hot water over the years and earned approbation, condemnation and censure has been the Sign of Peace.  Over the years I have come to offer the instruction to the congregation to exchange the Sign of Peace less and less, so that now it is a great rarity in for me to do so in the OF of Mass.  This has, of course, been accompanied by catechesis but because of the prevalent mode of exchanging the Sign of Peace, no matter what catechesis was given, it always became the occasion for something that it is not meant to be.  I have deemed that as it was not taking place properly, the legitimate option to omit it should be taken.  Although, of course, it is verbally exchanged between priest and people, whether the action is included or not.

Now, finally, the Congregation for the Sacraments has issued a letter which makes it clear that all those things which I have often been criticised for not doing or not allowing are, in fact, ABUSES which it will be "definitively necessary to avoid." (to quote Cardinal Canizares.)

"If it is foreseen that it will not take place properly due to specific circumstances or if it is not considered pedagogically wise to carry it out on certain occasions, it can be omitted and sometimes ought to be omitted.  It is worth recalling that the rubric from the Missal states: "Then, if appropriate, the deacon or the priest adds, 'Let us offer each other the sign of peace.'"

On the basis of these observations it may be advisable that conferences of bishops should consider whether it might not be advisable to change the manner of giving peace... For example, in those places where familiar or profane gestures were previously chosen, they could be replaced with other more appropriate gestures.

In any case, it will be definitively necessary to avoid abuses such as:

The introduction of a "song of peace", which is non-existent in the Roman Rite.

The movement of the faithful from their places to exchange the sign of peace amongst themselves.

The departure of the priest from the altar to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful.

That in certain circumstances, such as Easter, Christmas, first Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Ordinations and funerals, the exchange of peace being the occasion for expressing congratulations, best wishes or condolences."

Sadly, although this letter has been issued under the auspices of Pope Francis, I don't suppose all those who supposedly laud him to the skies will take any more notice of this than if it had been issued under Pope Benedict or Pope John Paul.  I shouldn't hold my breath waiting for Liturgy Offices up and down the country to start workshops or produce publicity about this particular Franciscan directive to take effect.

The letter also makes it clear that the Sign of Peace is to remain in the place during Mass which is assigned to it in the Missal.  I have experienced occasions here in the diocese where it has been moved around to other parts of the Mass.  One of the problems with this is that the same lack of understanding of what it is meant to be were not tackled and so the usual free-for-all took place.  As with so many other parts of the liturgy and of the Faith itself, the Christian gesture, teaching or symbol is emptied of its Faith content and we are left with a hollow secular meaning dressed up in Christian clothing.  I believe Our Lord referred to such instances as "whitened Sepulchres".

There was a time when the Church could take on pagan symbols, gestures and places and make them Her own but now the process seems most often to be working in reverse: we take on the secular and embrace all that goes with it instead of changing it.  Meanwhile, the secular world makes full outward use of our Christian heritage - candles, angels, demons, baptism, first Communion - but imbues them with its own degraded meanings.  The Devil must not only be dancing but taking classes in the Fandango to celebrate!

My thanks to Fr Ray Blake for drawing my attention to the letter and, of course, he has some eminently sensible observations of his own on the subject.

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August 13th, 2014Depression and the Great Lieby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The liar spinning his lies.


The suicide of Robin Williams has led to a number of posts on the internet about depression.  Both this one and this one are well worth the read.

It may be presumptuous of me to add anything, as my own personal pain has been quite mild by comparison.  Not that I don't have "mental issues", as my friends and regular readers will no doubt be happy to tell you!  But my own struggles have mostly been with anxiety and with demons of a different stripe.

However, I did experience one long dark night, a period of what could be called depression or despair or murkiness, a mixture of anger, hopelessness and listlessness that lasted for about two full years and that only recently ended.  Many of the posts on this blog were written in the midst of it.

It was "situational" for me - dealing with some very dark truths of human nature brought about by two situations that somehow managed to plumb the depths of who I was as a person.

And by far the worst thing about it - and perhaps this is true of all who suffer from chronic depression - was the lie.  The great lie.

***

We can all endure a certain amount of suffering and disappointments, even great pain and anguish in our lives if we can perceive the purpose of the pain.  If we're fighting to defend our nation in a just war and we get taken prisoner, the torture and deprivation we endure is out of love for something greater - and that makes all the difference.  But if the war is meaningless, if we were drafted in a conflict that was designed to fill the pockets of the corporate oligarchs who are trying to enslave us, then the suffering has no context - no meaningful context, and in that case seems unendurable.  Pointless.

Losing sleep because you're nursing your newborn is difficult, but a blessing.  Losing sleep because life seems meaningless and you can't function is a curse.

So love makes any sacrifice a glory, and even if our own sins bring about a darkness - that at least is part of God's plan and is an aspect of his Severe Mercy.  Being crucified for a sin you're guilty of is awful, but it's not so bad as what an innocent man suffers, as the Good Thief pointed out to the Bad Thief on Calvary ("And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." - Luke 23:41)

All of these ways of suffering are difficult.  But it's at that moment when even God seems to drop out of the equation that things are really bleak.

And in that moment the lie, the great lie, comes directly from the mouth of the father of lies.  And his favorite tool is the very meaninglessness and injustice that fuels our pain and that makes us long for a suffering that is justified, when he convinces us that ours is not.

Perhaps the most terrible of the Temptations of Jesus was one that was not spelled out, one that we can only infer.  When the devil tempted Our Lord in the wilderness, the theme behind his hideous whispers was power, power to compensate for doubt.  "If you are the Son of God ... prove it and Lord it over nature!  Lord it over others!  Lord it over death itself!"

But in that darkest of all dark moments, that terrible time on the cross when the sun itself went black, what was whispered in His ear must have been something like this ...

It's worthless.  You're worthless.  You thought you were the Son of God.  You thought you were doing good, helping them.  But they don't want your help.  And this is the hour for which you were made?  Ha!  It's an hour of emptiness.  This is an hour of absurdity.  Nothing matters.  You call this a sacrifice?  It's an empty gesture in a universe of empty gestures.  Your precious Father has abandoned you utterly - and you deserve it.  Because you're worthless.  "Are you still maintaining your integrity?  Curse God and die!"


That last line is from the Book of Job (Job 2:9), and I'm sure Satan used it, for the devil knows his Scripture well, and can quote it to his own advantage (see Luke 4:10).

But so does Our Lord.  When the dying Messiah cries out, "My God!  My God!  Why have you abandoned me?" - He and his listeners knew the rest of the Psalm, which ends with triumph and glory.

But my point here is that the great lie, the trump card played by the Prince of Lies, is the horrible untruth that everything is meaningless and that we do not matter.  No one can come to suicide without passing through that terrible curtain.

The antidote to this?  By the grace of God, Pope Benedict XVI explains the incredible ...

Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary.


That may be very hard to envision when you're in the throes of depression (it's hard to envision even on a normal day!) and that truth can only be conveyed if we offer more than mere words to one who is suffering.

But when I was depressed, that's what got me down the most - the conviction that my efforts were all for naught, that everything I did was simply selfish, that even my most ardent attempts at being loving and self-giving were sins in disguise, and that no matter what I did, it was never enough, that there was no way to escape from the utter indifference of the universe, that even the human heart was empty and all its passions contrived, that, as Lucy once told Charlie Brown when talking about his beloved dog, "Snoopy only loves you because you feed him."

In other words: "Are you still maintaining your integrity?  Curse God and die!"  Don't forget it was Job's wife who told him that, the woman he loved most in all the world.

So, my friends, life can be far more difficult than we often pretend it is.  And the inner struggles of those around you can be far greater than you could ever imagine.  So love them.  And remember, as Chesterton said (my emphasis) ...

Christianity alone felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point -- and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”



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August 13th, 2014Pumping Iron for Christ!by Joseph Pearce

Now that's not a headline that you see every day! It is, however, relevant to a Catholic website for which I have just given an interview. "Strength for the Kingdom" is a blog by Jared Zimmerer, on "nutrition, fitness and spirituality". Jared and I are keen weight trainers and I enjoyed sharing my thoughts on the "healthy trinity" of prayer, reading and fitness. Here's the interview: 

http://www.jaredzimmerer.com/blog/2014/8/12/the-healthy-trinity-an-interview-with-joseph-pearce

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August 13th, 2014Preview of the September/October Issue of the St. Austin Reviewby Joseph Pearce

The theme of the next issue of the St. Austin Review is “Recusants and Martyrs: English Resistance to the Tudor Terror”.

Highlights:

Shaun Blanchard views St. Thomas More as the Ideal Christian

Joseph Pearce connects Shakespeare and St. Thomas More

Mark Amorose waxes poetical about Recusants

Anne Barbeau Gardiner discovers Secret Hiding Places: Recusant Houses and Priest-Holes Made by a Saint

Stephanie A. Mann reads between the lines in her survey of Tudor Church Music and Revisionist History

T. Renee Kozinski looks iconically at St. Edmund Campion and the Tyburn Tree

John Beaumont tells the tale of A Remarkable Convert Priest, Resisting the Tudor Terror

Stephen Brady condemns The Murder of Merrie England

Brendan King admires The Picture that Painted a Poem, explaining How an Italian Masterpiece Inspired an English Saint

Trevor Lipscombe elegizes Our Lady’s Dowry

Susan Treacy muses on William Byrd’s Gradualia

M. J. Needham praises the Art of Katie Schmid in the full colour art feature

Kevin O’Brien tackles Modern Persecution and the Catholic Church

James Bemis checks off Schindler’s List in his ongoing survey of the Vatican’s List of “great films”

Fr. Benedict Kiely contemplates the meaning of the priesthood

Donald DeMarco spies A Ray of Hope for the Family in Quebec

Michael Lichens remembers Stratford Caldecott

Carol Anne Jones reviews Was Shakespeare Catholic? by Peter Milward

Stephanie A. Mann reviews Catholics of the Anglican Patrimony by Aidan Nicholls

Carol Anne Jones reviews Anne Line: Shakespeare’s Tragic Muse by Martin Dodwell

 

Mark Newcomb reviews The One Thomas More by Travis Curtright

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August 13th, 2014Spayed Sentiments and Sterilized Sex: More on Catholic Datingby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Flannery speaks ... read on!


I'm going to tie together some threads that have been hanging loose in my posts on Catholic Dating.

Remember what Chesterton said ...

To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust. It may be an airy, philosophical, and disinterested lust… but it is lust, because it is wholly self-indulgent and invites no attack. 


This is the knot that ties together the lack of Eros in both our secular and religious arenas and the bizarre non-sexual hook-up culture that one finds in the weird world of devout young Christians.

What this "airy lust" ignores is this.  Sex and sentiment both have points.  They both are deadly serious things that have a final cause, or an end in their design.  The pornographic mentality of the secular hook-up culture denies the purpose of sex, while the sentimental mentality of the Devout-Christian-hook-up culture denies the purpose of feelings.  In the one case, sex is indulged in for its own sake, apart from the awesome ends for which it is designed, and its enjoyment is cut off from the responsibilities that naturally come with it.  In the other, men and women indulge themselves in intense emotional feelings and intimacies, which likewise are severed from their purpose, and cut off from the responsibilities that these feelings imply - loyalty, friendship, mutual obligations - yes, and marriage - and other things that lovers of the Pornography of Sentiment would rather avoid.

Flannery O'Connor wrote about this long ago.

 

If the average Catholic reader could be tracked down through the swamps of letters-to-the-editor and other places where he momentarily reveals himself, he would be found to be something of a Manichean.  By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he has reduced his conception of the supernatural to a pious cliche and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only
two forms, the sentimental and the obscene. He would seem to prefer the former, while being more of an authority on the latter, but the similarity between the two generally escapes him. He forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of sentiment, usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence; and that innocence, whenever it is overemphasized in the ordinary human condition, tends by some natural law to become its opposite.
We lost our innocence in the fall of our first parents, and our return to it is through the redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite. Pornography, on the other hand, is essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purposes, disconnects it from its meaning in life and makes it simply an experience for its own sake.


Note that Flannery sets this observation in the context of the Manichean tendencies of the modern Catholic - the idea that matter is bad and spirit is good, the idea that God's grace could not possibly operate in the real world of sexual desire, intense emotions that imply an obligation, or in the general mess of our everyday lives, which is the philosophical backdrop to this problem that I identified earlier in these series of posts.

In other words, as Chesterton pointed out, if you separate loving and fighting, if you separate grace and nature, if you separate sex from its purpose or feelings from their purpose, you are left not with love but with lust; perhaps an "airy, philosophical and disinterested lust", but lust all the same.

If our desires do not bind us, we are shirking the cross.  If our shared emotions do not obligate us, we are no more "friends" than two people who get drunk and have a one-night-stand are "lovers".  If we believe that sentimentality and the cheap grace of the gay guitar Mass are anything but shortcuts to a "mock state of innocence", we are fooling ourselves.

***

So, what I think this phenomenon shows us is this ...

  • There exists a floating heresy that all secularists and most Catholics take in by osmosis, by the air they breathe.  It is the unexamined assumption that grace does not penetrate nature; and that God would never deign to do such a messy and demeaning thing as working through our bodies or our passions.

  • This leads to a great suspicion of nature and a blindness to the teleology that is built in to nature - which is the death of nature as a meaningful concept, including human nature.

  • This "death of nature" leads, in the secular culture, to things as ridiculous as the conviction that "gender" is an individual choice, or that "marriage" has no inherent meaning, that we can define it or redefine it as we will, and that arbitrary human will trumps nature every time, either in the life of an individual or in the laws of a community, in the community's economy, and in the meaning of life itself, which cannot be found in creation, but exists only as we will it, and can change from person to person, from culture to culture, or from age to age.

  • Young Devout Catholics growing up in this culture thus cannot trust either their natural desires or their natural emotions as having any purpose, as carrying with them any incumbent obligations.

  • Add to this the miseducation of American youth, in which fighting for anything is always and everywhere taught to be wrong, and you get a great timidity of spirit, a loss of the sense of romance, and a world that's flattened, pale and uninteresting.  

  • And while Devout Young Catholics - women in particular - shy away from pornography (or at least try to), the great unmet need of male / female bonding nonetheless often leads them to an irresponsible indulgence in affairs of the heart.  Except in such a culture of sanctimonious sentimentality, an affair of the heart is like a very tame Hallmark movie that you can switch off after you've had enough artificial emotional payoff.  Thus what my friend termed the "non-sexual hook-up culture".

I

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August 12th, 2014What is Christendom?by Joseph Pearce

After last week's article for The Imaginative Conservative, which asked the question, "what is civilization?", this week's article asks the related question, "what is Christendom?" Learn more:


 http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/08/christendom.html

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August 12th, 2014Of Bonds and Bondageby Dena Hunt

Having been declared by both secular and religious social philosophy to be The Meaning of Life, human relationships, the bonds we have with each other, are the areas of our lives that receive everyone’s closest attention. At every turn, we are prompted to cherish, to revere (even to worship), what we’ve identified as God, namely, Love. “God is love” quoth the religious and “Love is god,” saith the secular humanist. And thus we see how handily, how easily, we can dispose of divisive notions of deity when we unite around a god called “Love.”

“All you need is love!” sang the sixties, and we all became believers. It felt so good to say it, it made us feel righteous, and it affirmed our secret faith in our own potential glory. If we only have love, we will not have war. Yes, of course, Hitler did what he did because of love, and so did Stalin, but we’ll pretend they didn’t because only good guys (us) have love. We have The Answer to all the evils in the world, and this discovery proves our moral superiority to capitalist greed, imperialistic powerlust, and to all the oppressive religious belief that preceded us.

 

 The flower children grew up but didn’t outgrow the deep need for emotional sap, for righteous supremacy (expressed now as “social justice”), and most of all, for the victory of humanism. Victory over what? Good question—odd no one ever thought to ask it. It was along about this time, that I became misanthropic. “Love,” I had begun to notice, is the justification of all sorts of exploitation, cultural destruction, bigotry, abuse, cruelty, emotional terrorism, and even murder.

 

When I was in school, I took a course or two in advertising and worked one summer writing copy. It’s not a surprise, I know, to learn that most advertising exploits our fears. But what fear are we talking about? Fear of suffering and death? No. Nor is it the fear of being unloved—not exactly. It’s the fear of being unlovable—which is not the same thing as unloved. In fact, there’s a world of difference, and it’s that difference that reveals the horror at the heart of the secular humanist’s mantra, Love is God.

 

To get a revealing snapshot of a society (what’s going on, what are its beliefs and values, what does it perceive as “good” and “bad,” etc.), take a look at children’s cartoons. Gone are the days of Bugs Bunny or Tom and Jerry—when cartoons were meant simply to be funny. Now they’re meant to instruct, to form our children. It’s as if the producers know that parents are too busy to raise their children and so they’ve taken on that job themselves. Anyway, it takes the whole village to raise a child, and cartoon producers are part of the village.

 

Children in cartoons are always seen in groups, and their friends are always represented in multiple ethnicities—white Anglo-European, African-Carribean, Asian, Hispanic, etc. So we’re teaching inclusiveness of all races and cultures—good, but you might notice also that there are no “individual” story lines, except insofar as some child has been excluded from the group. If he is rightfully excluded, it’s because he’s been selfish and must learn his lesson in order to be re-admitted to the group (the happy ending). If he’s wrongfully excluded, it’s because the group must learn the lesson of inclusivity (the alternate happy ending). Either way, the plotline is social justice, and it varies almost not at all. Together, the group overcomes some evil difficulty or obstacle. “Together,” the keyword of the concluding action and rhetoric, is always spoken with enormous emphasis, often accompanied by rousing music. Most parents actually DO monitor what their kids watch, so all this redundancy meets their approval, indicating that it’s the creed of the parents. The kids probably don’t even understand it. But it’s served up to them over and over and over anyway.

 

With all this bonding, we should be a pretty strong society, yet most marriages end in divorce: First, the absence of God precludes any notion of the sanctity of marriage, so most people don’t bother with marriage any more. Then, having turned love into a god, men and women demand more of human love than human beings can deliver.

 

Our bonds become our bondage. I once saw a humanistic film, much applauded in religious circles, in which a family is forced to accept the homosexual “marriage” of one of its members. Families do not, contrary to social justice films, exclude practicing homosexuals from their midst; rather, the homosexual threatens to leave the family unless the members not only accept, but also ratify and affirm their activity. (It was cartoon plot number two, above.) At the end, the family sat around a Christmas tree (no one saw that irony) and declared, “We’re all each other has.” The scene, much admired by viewers and critics, was co-dependency on steroids. After all, it’s unspeakably lonely being gods.

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August 10th, 2014The Day I was Almost Murdered - and What It Taught Me about Loveby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The Princess, The Dragon, St. George (see Chesterton's quotation below)


He was a violent man.  And he tried to kill me.

It was the first time a murder almost happened during one of our murder mysteries.

He had been raised in one of the most culturally depraved parts of Missouri, and his family history included a bit of everything, even incest.  His father used to get in fist fights with him and his brothers - in public.  In the parking lot of the restaurant they owned and ran.  In front of the customers.

Over the years that we performed murder mystery dinner theater shows at his restaurant, he more than once threatened to "kick my ass".  Somehow I managed to avoid direct confrontations with him, and he admired the work I was doing enough generally to leave me alone.

But he was particularly angry on January 11, 1997.  He confronted me before the show and demanded that I share with him a portion of his overhead: the fee that Mastercard and Visa were charging him when people paid for their dinners on a credit card.  Obviously this was unfair, but I dodged the issue, as he was particularly on edge.  "Let's talk about it later," I said.

In fact, over the years, one of my favorite ways of dealing with conflict had been to dodge the issue.  When I was at my poorest, and delivering flyers door to door (doing work that prisoners and the mentally disabled are often contracted to do), the company that hired me was paying me a ridiculously low amount per flyer.  Instead of negotiating for more money, and for what amounted to a living wage, I simply delivered only half to 3/4 of the flyers I charged them for.  This was dishonest, but, in my cowardice, I found it to be a better solution than dealing with the problem directly and taking the risk that I might lose the business.

So I was often like this with the bully who ran the restaurant.  After all, I was making pretty good money, writing and performing my own comedy shows, I loved the work, and if it meant I had to sell my soul a bit or shut up and take a little abuse here and there, I figured I would do it.

But that night something happened.

A guy had parked his car in the parking lot so that it was blocking others from getting in or out.  So during Act Two of the show, the restaurant owner sent his girlfriend table to table to ask people whose car it was that was parked there.

This was very distracting.  It got to a point where I couldn't hold the audience's attention.  The show was starting to die, as people kept looking at the girlfriend, who kept talking to people around the room.  Finally I stopped the show.  "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen.  We'll be back on after they figure this out."

And I brought the actress with me and made an exit.

In the hall, the restaurant owner, the angry man, was livid.  "You can't stop the show!" he insisted.

"You can't ruin the show," I replied.

"We've got to solve this problem, and we'll solve it however we choose to!  Get your ass back out there and finish Act Two!"

Now, here's the point I'm making.

When you love something with a passionate love, enough that you take pride in it, enough that you'll fight to defend it, enough that it means more to you than anything else - that's Eros.  That's what so many young people, both in and out of the Catholic Church, are deliberately suffocating it in their lives.  Secularists kill Eros by "hooking up" and turning romantic love into mutual abuse.  Catholics kill Eros by telling themselves that anything that gets their dander up is a sin and must be shunned.  In both cases, the young live lives where they constantly dodge the issue, lives of impotence, lives of make-believe and comfort zones.

"Don't talk to me that way," I said to the angry man.

"You get your ass out there and keep doing your show, or you'll kiss $60,000 away!" he said.  That's about what we were making from him in a year - though he was underpaying us by more than half of what the shows were worth, and what I was later able to get for them elsewhere.

"You're damn right I'm kissing it away!" I said, and I grabbed him and kissed him.  "I've had enough of your s***, you a**hole!"

And I stormed upstairs to gather my costumes.

Now, granted, this was not the smartest thing to do.  I was provoking him.  I was finally giving in to an anger that he himself had been provoking in me for three full years.

But here's the thing: you don't mess with my shows.  I let this man mess with me offstage, I let him harass my actresses, I let him nickle and dime me to death, I let him blow up in anger at me and shout at me on a regular basis before and after many performances, I let him treat me with the contempt he treated his bus boys.

But I was not going to let him mess with my shows.  The stage is a sacred space.  I wasn't a Christian in those days, but I knew there was one thing I would defend the way a priest would defend his altar, the way a mother bear would defend her cubs.  I was going to defend the thing that I loved, the thing I was called to do.  You don't mess with my shows.  

Suddenly, he was on me.

Having been an amateur boxer in his day, he was pummeling me, and having been a dirty street fighter, he kept trying to trip me so that he could get on top of me.  We were alone in the upstairs room where my costumes were.  He was trying to kill me.  I could see it in his eyes.  He later admitted it to one of my actresses.

I held my own for as long as I could.  I realized if I didn't start yelling for help, he'd eventually get me down, and if he got me down, he would knock me out, and once he knocked me out, he would keep beating on me, even if I were unconscious.  I was a dead man, and this guy was bigger and stronger and filled with the kind of anger I've never seen in another human being - an anger not of this world, an anger he was giving himself in to with a glee of hideous abandon.

Eventually the waiters heard my cries and the police were called - but not until after he broke my nose in two places and almost delivered a "blow out fracture" to my left eye socket.  The police were St. Louis city cops, friends of this guy's, regular customers at the restaurant.  They arrested me.  But not him.

***

So I was out of a job and almost murdered on the same night.  And arrested, and filled with despair.  And the guy who tried to kill me owed me for six performances prior to that night - and of course he never paid me.  I decided not to sue, as it was all I could do to get through each day.  It was the most traumatic thing that had happened to me up to that point in my life, and I struggled to come to grips with it.  Lots of sleepless nights and deep days of anger.  And a family to support, two little kids to feed, and a mortgage to pay (we had just bought our first house).  And our main dinner theater client suddenly gone.

In my free time following the attack, I went to the library and started reading books at random to get my mind off things.  One of the books was God in the Dock, an anthology of essays by someone named C. S. Lewis, who was the first Christian I had ever come across who was both a brilliant writer and a man who could mount a reasonable defense of the Faith.  Lewis led me to Chesterton.  Chesterton to Belloc.  Belloc to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  And the rest is history.

Sometimes my actors get down on themselves.  "We didn't have a very good show tonight," they'll complain.

"Did anyone try to kill you?" I ask.

"No," they reply.

"Did you get the check?" I add.

"Yes," they reply.

"Then you had a good show."

***

Of course, had I handled the situation differently during our three years at this restaurant, had I stood up for myself early on and all along the way, either the business relationship would have ended sooner, or this guy would have learned to respect me.  But things never would have exploded the way they did.

But there's a lesson here, a lesson about love.  Not the love of forgiveness (though I've been given the grace to forgive this man, and I have); but the love of fighting for the princess.

Which is something that is very alien to many of you - especially to you Devout Young Catholics, a group I've been haranguing all week.

Young Catholics, stop dodging the issue.  God has made us to love, and love includes both the selfless love of Agape and the possessive love of Eros.  If you ever get married and have babies, you will suddenly find that there are little tiny people in this world that you would gladly die for in a heartbeat, little tiny people that you would gladly kill for in a heartbeat: your children.

That's love, fellow Christians.  A love that is both self-sacrificing and jealous, insistent, firm and militant: a love that is (as all love is) both Agape and Eros.

Stand up for yourselves.  Don't settle for loser boyfriends who can't bring themselves to pop the question because they're either too busy "discerning" or they're secretly gay or hooked on porn.  Don't settle for girlfriends who manipulate or tease you or who can't be trusted or who won't be there when you need them.  Don't settle for turning your vocation into an avocation, for jobs that simply fill space and make your life comfortable but that don't give you the chance to do what God has made you to do.  Don't settle for an education that doesn't force you to grapple with the deepest elements of Truth, Beauty and Goodness.  Don't settle for a Mass that's contrived, filled with bad music and insipid preaching.  Don't settle for a parish that's more anti-Christian than Christian.  Don't settle for the safety of living in Mom's basement.

And don't let anyone mess with your shows.

When you find what you love, defend it, fight for it, die for it - and (most challenging of all) live for it.

***

The greatest writer of the 20th Century, my patron in heaven, put it much better than I ever could (my emphasis) ...

In every romance there must be the twin elements of loving and fighting. In every romance there must be the three characters: there must be the Princess, who is a thing to be loved; there must be the Dragon, who is a thing to be fought; and there must be St. George, who is a thing that both loves and fights. There have been many symptoms of cynicism and decay in our modern civilization. But of all the signs of modern feebleness, of lack of grasp on morals as they actually must be, there has been none quite so silly or so dangerous as this: that the philosophers of today have started to divide loving from fighting and to put them into opposite camps. [But] the two things imply each other; they implied each other in the old romance and in the old religion, which were the two permanent things of humanity. You cannot love a thing without wanting to fight for it. You cannot fight without something to fight for. To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust. It may be an airy, philosophical, and disinterested lust… but it is lust, because it is wholly self-indulgent and invites no attack. On the other hand, fighting for a thing without loving it is not even fighting; it can only be called a kind of horse-play that is occasionally fatal. Wherever human nature is human and unspoilt by any special sophistry, there exists this natural kinship between war and wooing, and that natural kinship is called romance. It comes upon a man especially in the great hour of youth; and every man who has ever been young at all has felt, if only for a moment, this ultimate and poetic paradox. He knows that loving the world is the same thing as fighting the world. - G. K. Chesterton  


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August 7th, 2014Catholic Dating and the Death of Erosby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

My two posts on the challenges of Catholic dating (Where are All the Good Catholic Men? and Some Good Catholic Men Answer the Question, "Where are All the Good Catholic Men?") have touched a nerve.  There are many thoughtful comments on my blog, and many more on Facebook.

On Facebook, one of the comments connects the trouble in Catholic relationships with Pop Catholic Culture in general.  On the blog, reader JVC is more specific, naming the Charismatic Renewal and Hipster Catholics as examples of the problem.

And a friend of mine can trace much of this back to Christopher West, who has "seeped into Catholic Youth culture the way Rousseau and Foucoult have seeped into the culture of academia and the culture at large."  West, for all his obsession with sex, actually claims that the goal in courtship is to achieve a state that is entirely devoid of sexual attraction - that only when the guy and gal can love one another pristinely and can be in a room alone together without experiencing any physical attraction will they be ready to marry.

That sounds a hell of a lot more like the end of a long marriage than the beginning of one.  We are not eunuchs, after all.

Or are we?

This all comes down to the suppression of Eros, which I have written about before.  We in the Church have mistakenly come to think that love is only Agape - which is the selfless love of neighbor, the disinterested self-giving that seeks only the good of the other.  But, as Pope Benedict has pointed out, Eros is also an aspect of love.  Eros is the love that desires, that hungers, that yearns, that seeks to possess, that is "jealous" in the sense of caring to the point where you're willing to fight for something or someone.  Eros sweeps us off our feet, possesses us, stirs us, takes risks, tears down our comfort zones, makes us live again.

Chesterton famously said, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”  He was describing Eros.  But today we think that love and fighting must never go together, that getting your dander up and jousting for your lover is just testosterone on the loose.  On the contrary, unless God loved us with the love of Eros, He would never have sent His son to save us; for the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection are the greatest acts of both Eros and Agape combined.

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. - Deut. 4:24


When we smother Eros, we are killing an aspect of love - an aspect of God Himself.  We are not only emasculating ourselves, we are emasculating God.

***

And so, Young Catholics, I urge you to give a damn.

Passion and fire are dangerous things, but so is the Holy Spirit.  You need to love to a point where you're willing to fight for what you love.  Yes, sexual desire has the tendency to overtake us, but the answer to that problem is not to mortify sexual desire: we are instead to mortify its two opposite sins,
lust and acedia (sloth).  Lust is Eros unrestrained; but Acedia is Eros suffocated.  Of the two, Acedia is the more serious sin, for it's more spiritual.

And, next to Despair, it is the sin of choice for today's Young Catholics.

Oh, and Young Catholic Men, if you don't get off porn, you'll never be able to relate to a woman in a healthy way.   And if your primary orientation is same sex attraction, tell the gal you're dating so she can do the right thing and not marry you.

And Young Catholic Women, if he's dragging his feet and he's been doing so for a year or longer, dump him.  Especially if you haven't been sexually active with him, for if he's not motivated by you physically, and if he won't marry you despite your bond being strong in all other ways, there's a problem - a problem with his Eros.  But don't let there be a problem with yours.

Eros was a god for the Greeks - and it is an aspect of God for us.  Ignore it at your peril.


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August 7th, 2014Tolkien in Rotterdamby Brendan D. King

The news is now spreading, and causing great excitement throughout Middle Earth fandom, that a long lost recording of J.R.R. Tolkien's voice has surfaced in The Netherlands. In 1958, the creator of Middle Earth made his first and last visit to a "Lord of the Rings" fan convention in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Unbeknownst to all but a few, Tolkien's speech for the occasion was recorded and still survives. In honor of this truly exciting news, I have decided to post Tolkien's own description of the event, which shatters the myth that the 1950s were a decade of mindless conformity. More information on the recording and the plans to digitize it may be found at the following link:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/noble-smith/jrr-tolkien-reveals-the-t_b_5373529.html

 

 

From "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien," Letter No. 206.

To Rayner Unwin. April 8, 1958.

 

Since I had the remarkable, and in the event extremely enjoyable,

experience in Holland by the generousity of "A. and U.," I think some kind

of report would be proper. I have had time to simmer down a bit, and

recover some sense of proportion. The incense was thick and very heady; and

the kindness overwhelming. My journey was very comfortable, and the

reservations magnificent; the outward boat was backed, and the train from

Liverpool Street went in two parts. I arrived in cold mist and a drizzle,

but by the time I found my way to Rotterdam the sun was shining, and it

remained so for two days. Outboter of Vorhoove and Dietrich was waving a

"Lord of the Rings" and so easy to pick out of the crowd, but I did not fit

his expectations, as he confessed (after dinner); my build up by letter had

been too successful and he was looking for someone much smaller and more

shy and hobbit-like.

 

(I thought he was charming and intelligent; but he was still a little upset

by the hilarity caused by "Maggot-Soup" on the menue. It was, of course,

mushroom-soup; but he said he would not have chosen the name if he had

known "all the names of the English vermins.") I met a representative of

the Het Spectrum and saw a good deel of the depressing world of ruined and

hald rebuilt Rotterdam. I think it is largely the breach between this

comfortless world, with its giant and largely dehumanized reconstruction,

and the natural ancestral tastes of the Dutch, that has made them, in

Rotterdam especially, almost intoxicated by hobbits. It was almost entirely

of hobbits that they spoke.

 

At 5:30 on Friday, I faced quite a large concourse in an assembly hall.

Apparently over 200 (largely ordinary people) had paid to be present, and

many had been turned away. Professor Harting was even more astonished than

I was. The dinner was certainly "abundant and prolonged": the latter

because the speeches were interleaved with the courses. In the event they

were all in English; and all but one quite sensible... The exception was a

lunatic psycholog, but the able chairman held him to five minutes. My final

reply was I hope adequate, and was I believe audible; but I need not dwell

on it. It was partly a parody of Bilbo's speech in Chapter I.

 

In this home of smoking pipe-weed seems especially to have caught on.

There were clay pipes on the table and large jars of tobacco

--provided, I believe, by the firm of Van Rossem. The walls were

decorated with Van Rossem posters overprinted "Pipe-Weed for Hobbits":

in 3 qualities: Longbottom Leaf, Old Toby, and Southern Star. V.

Rossem has since sent me pipes and tobacco! I carried off one of the

posters. You might like to see it...

 

I cannot thank you enough for provinding me with this short but

memorable expedition-- the only one I am likely to get after all out

of my "leave" -- and for gently pressing me to go.

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August 6th, 2014Louis L’Amour and the Moral Imaginationby Daniel J. Heisey

Nearly twenty years ago in The New York Times Magazine, Frank Gannon wrote an essay, “Spillane Also Writes,” demonstrating that it is often difficult to distinguish passages of prose written by Ernest Hemingway and Mickey Spillane.  Within the republic of letters, what elevates one writer to the lofty realms of Nobel laureates while consigning another to the slums of pulp fiction remains a profound mystery.

            Among some literary critics Louis L’Amour’s nearly ten dozen volumes, most first published as paperbacks, tend to relegate him closer to the level of Spillane than Hemingway.  Even so, his books, mostly stories about the American West in the nineteenth century, have a large and loyal readership, and all his books are still in print.  Several of his novels and short stories have been made into feature films and television series, and these versions of L’Amour’s tales are nearly all available on DVD.

            Critics also turn up their noses at L’Amour’s books because his readers tend to be men on the American political right.  After all, it was President Ronald Reagan who in 1984 bestowed on L’Amour the Presidential Medal of Freedom, yet it was a Democratic Congress that in 1982 had awarded L’Amour the Congressional Gold Medal.  Prior to L’Amour, the only writer to have received the Congressional Gold Medal was Robert Frost (1874-1963).  Nevertheless, within the literary world, L’Amour lacks Frost’s prestige.

            Louis L’Amour lived from 1908 to 1988, thus seeing much of the turbulent twentieth century.  Son of a veterinarian in North Dakota, he was a high school dropout who spent the rest of his life reading hundreds of books a year.  His voracious and eclectic reading, from Plato to Shakespeare, Edward Gibbon to Joseph Conrad, filled spare moments during vast travels and through a succession of dangerous jobs, including lumberjack, soldier, and professional boxer.  Those phases of his life found their way into his writings.

            Since most of L’Amour’s stories are Westerns, it is easy to parody them as featuring laconic loners who have an inarticulate and anti-social habit of shooting people.  For some, it is enough reason to dislike L’Amour because John Wayne liked L’Amour’s short story “The Gift of Cochise” (1952) so much he decided to make of movie of it, Hondo.  More open-minded people give L’Amour a chance and read his many and varied works.

            When one takes a quiet Saturday afternoon, for example, to make a cup of tea and curl up to venture into a Louis L’Amour story, one finds a world worth repeated sojourns.  To take one of his books more or less at random, let us consider Galloway, published in 1970 and one of the seventeen volumes featuring the Sackett family.  For any writer, a seventeen-volume family saga would be enough for a lifetime.

            In Galloway we find not only adventure and suspense, but also L’Amour’s recurring themes of family loyalty and personal integrity.  The story takes place in southwestern Colorado around 1875; the Sackett family had moved west from the hills of Tennessee.  Their great desire is domesticity, or as the narrator, Flagan Sackett, explained:  “We figure to settle down and raise cows and families.”

“It was a rough, hard, wonderful life,” mused Flagan Sackett, “and it took men with the bark on to live it.  We didn’t ask anything of anybody, and as long as a man did his work, nobody cared what else he was or did.”  Early in the story he recounted a life lesson from boyhood.  “One thing we learned,” he said, “To make a start and keep plugging.”  As for a lesson he had learned on his own, he said, “There was nothing a man couldn’t get out of if he was sober and didn’t panic, so I settled down to think.”  Such lessons help turn a boy into a man.

L’Amour’s books include Westerns, of course, but also hard-boiled crime fiction set in Los Angeles and war stories set in the South Pacific.  While his detective stories never caught on as did those of Raymond Chandler, and the sea stories are not up to Joseph Conrad’s quality (whose are?), L’Amour’s diverse output always informs and entertains.  Even The Walking Drum (1984), set in twelfth-century Europe, while getting a lot wrong about medieval life, reveals much truth about human nature.  In his stories L’Amour consistently portrays what Edmund Burke called the moral imagination.

In hisReflections on the Revolution in France (1790) Burke wrote, referring to the French revolutionaries’ utopia requiring the violent and intolerant imposition of reason and equality:  “All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off.  All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.”

Burke also saw that the moral imagination connects the generations.  It makes society civilized, and civil society “becomes a partnership,” he wrote, “not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”  That continuity builds strong families and communities.

Louis L’Amour’s tales show again and again that strength of character and good upbringing are the only things that stand between a decent home and an unsentimental wilderness, not to mention men who choose to intrude maliciously into the lives of people who are trying to mind their own business.  Although on one level L’Amour’s stories may be mental escapes for Presidents and Congressmen, men bearing great responsibilities, on a deeper level those stories provide diversions by reinforcing ideals about the human condition.  It may be why anyone reads fiction at all.

 

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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August 6th, 2014Some Good Catholic Men Answer the Question, “Where are All the Good Catholic Men?”by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Jeremy can't see Candace tonight.  He's "discerning".


There were some very thoughtful comments on my post Where are All the Good Catholic Men? - and some are on my blog, but others were on Facebook.  Here are some highlights.


Brian Lester said ...

I think there's several concurrent phenomena. 
1) It's certainly the case that young Catholic men are more susceptible to "discernment" (read: prolonged wheel spinning non-discernment), during which time there can be half-hearted dating attempts, and the "I might be called to the priesthood card" can avoid having to be a man about the breakup. Dammit guys, if you at all think you *might* have a call, then get your application to seminary or novitiate in, and let the community actually discern along with you. Get it over with.
2) Frankly there's probably a group of guys who are using porn regularly, and either have enough integrity to not pursue dating until they've kicked it, or having started dating don't want to propose until they've kicked it, or they are the guys Kevin refers to where: "The lack of sexual activity during courtship doesn't even seem to be a motivating factor for marriage for many of these guys - which is not a good sign." Right, it's not a good sign, because it likely points to porn.

Joe Grabowski said ...

Time was when you talked to a girl that it was just about trying to show her who you are and see who she is and establish relationality or a sense of sympathy.
But in these kinds of places/gatherings, it doesn't feel like that. (I'm talking about Catholic youth events, etc.) Here, it's like everyone is out to prove themselves by another set of expectations, of holiness or whatever.
The secular analogy is, say, a libertine night club. There people are trying to prove themselves according to outside stereotypes. Guys try to act all macho, etc. But even there at least there's something in it that recognizes the "play" aspect of flirting. Flirting at a Catholic party doesn't have any sense of play, but it feels like a cold calculation and ticking off a list of "suitables." ... 
It's like this:
The charismatic Catholic youth culture makes people excited about Jesus.
But then it makes them feel like they must, at all costs, remain excited about Jesus all the time, and even if they don't feel it, they should fake it, cuz it's just what's done.
There doesn't seem to be a sense of how enthusiasm isn't the real test or the point. They're all about being "on fire" so on days when they're down and rained on there's this existential disaster going on inside them as they feel like it's something they did wrong.


My gloss ...

What Joe is describing, I call Unreality: the contrived, ginned up, artificial, insincere religious sentimentality that only occasionally and by accident intersects with real life.  To paraphrase what they used to say about Chickenman, "It's everywhere!  It's everywhere!"


Joe continues ...

So the secular world has its pretentious hipster bars and cafes where people talk about being "deep" and lob Faulkner's name around ... and that's what makes it all work.  And there's a lot of fakery in it.
At Catholic Youth parties it's like that, except about religious matters.
Whereas for a normal, level-headed 21 year old guy (say) who isn't trying to BE anything, but is comfortable and mature enough at least to just sorta be okay being him, well he goes to a sports bar and drinks Bud Light and when a cute girl comes up, he doesn't care about being deep or whatever. He just talks to her and they get to know each other. Nobody's keeping inventory.


Brian counters ...

It's not the charismatic influence, it's that to have a shot of meeting a fellow serious Catholic, you need to go to this group under a ministry umbrella which is self-consciously Catholic about everything. Whereas Chestertonians get to be naturally catholic about everything.
I'll say that these groups don't necessarily have to be dysfunctional. I was involved in one that led to a couple dozen marriages, and the ones I've kept track of all seem healthy, and other very healthy friendships. The key was the group of normal people just needed the group to meet people, and then could do their own thing with it, always outnumbered the needy and socially awkward, who approached the group to get something out of it from the church. There was a weekly Bible study of the Sunday readings, but then when the group went on a hike or a concert or to play football or drink, it wasn't put through ridiculous filters of "what would Aquinas say about this concert?", or "what does the theology of the body have to say about this trip to Six Flags?" 


And to paraphrase Larry the Cable Guy, it makes me happy that I'm married, because I don't date nearly as much as I used to.



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August 6th, 2014God Provides: Good News from Englandby Joseph Pearce

When I lived in England there was much talk of a vocations crisis. There was a dangerous shortage of priests and the seminaries were largely empty. The doom-mongers predicted the end of the Church as we knew Her, prophesying that the gates of hell were about to prevail. Then, beyond all apparent hope, almost 400 new priests seemed to fall on the the Church in England like manna from heaven. The cause was the disintegration of the Anglican church in the wake of its decision to ordain women and the conversion of hundreds of Anglican clergy to the Catholic Church.


As heresy wreaks havoc on Anglicanism, the Faith of our Fathers is being blessed with the heavenly fall-out. Deo gratias!

For full details of the wave of Anglican clergy who have converted to Catholicism, follow this link:

http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/1028/0/new-figures-show-almost-400-catholic-priests-were-anglicans

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August 5th, 2014Where are All the Good Catholic Men?by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Single Catholic guy "discerning".


Having witnessed a few mating dances at the Chesterton Conference this past weekend, the weird and distressing situation among single Catholics mystifies me.

A Facebook friend has drawn my attention to an article by Devin Rose entitled Single Catholic Guy - Wake Up!

Here's how it begins ...

It’s never been a better time to be a single Catholic guy.
Why? Because there are thousands of lovely, faithful young Catholic women waiting for you to step up to the plate and court them!
Yet many Catholic guys are unsure about themselves, uncertain, dithering, wavering, vicissitudening. Stop it! In Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit, you can change this and face your fears, be courageous, bold, and manly. It’s not about being a boor, or having enormous muscles (though it wouldn’t hurt to go work out), or swaggering around like you’re Tom Cruise after a Scientology retreat. It’s about being yourself and living up to who God made you to be.

... the rest of the article features more or less stupid advice, but the above is on the money.

It's apparently pretty bad out there.  Many beautiful, intelligent devout single Catholic women I've known have trouble finding anything but losers or ambi-sexuals who are too busy "discerning" to realize what God made them to be and to do.  There seems to be a shortage of Catholic men who are simply men.  Or, perhaps, who are straight.  The lack of sexual activity during courtship doesn't even seem to be a motivating factor for marriage for many of these guys - which is not a good sign.

In fact, I've known more than a few women deliberately marrying guys who were gay - or guys who were "struggling with same sex attraction" - thinking they could marry them and reform them.

This never works.  It's a recipe for disaster.  Life long disaster.

And I've known other Catholic women whose husbands were straight, and who showed an interest in them, but who had such serious psychological problems that their lives together became a nightmare.  Invariably, these women knew how disturbed their husbands were before marrying them, but married them anyway thinking they had no other good options.

And hard as it is to understand, this is perhaps the most significant area in which young Catholic women are called upon to trust God and to have the courage to engage in real life and real men.  Unreality often dominates the lives of devout Christians, however, and Matrimony, which is dying in the secular world, also suffers greatly even in Catholic circles.

The vocations crisis is not just in the Catholic priesthood.

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August 5th, 2014Last Night’s High Massby Fr. Simon Henry

Thanks to everyone who came to High Mass last night for the centenary of the First World War - servers, assisting and visiting priests, music department, congregation and helpers in the kitchen afterwards!  

It seems we were all too busy praying for anyone to have taken any photographs so the remains in the sacristy are all that's left this morning. It was wonderful to see so many people come along (we were turning altar servers away!), especially parishioners who don't usually attend the traditional Mass. Obviously, the centenary has engaged many people.  One or two even brought along photographs of their relatives who had fought in the First World War - very appropriate as it was for them that we were offering the Requiem Mass. The unadorned chant of the Requiem Mass provided a suitable atmosphere of reflection (although we did sing Chesterton's "O God of earth and altar" at the conclusion of the Mass.  Not that all that solemnity stopped us from enjoying one another's company afterwards (not a single sandwich, pork pie or quail's egg was left for me to enjoy as supper in the house later!)

I've often found that a Requiem Mass of some sort - All Souls or Remembrance Day - is an excellent way to introduce people to the Traditional Form of the Mass, or even to Latin or ad oreintem in the new form. Somehow, the more sober / serious or solemn atmosphere that  these forms of Mass engender seem to be more easily accepted and appreciated on such occasions.  I suppose that should tell us something - that while Mass is a celebration its not a frivolous one.  The rubrics, the Church's wider teaching on the celebration of the liturgy and all our noble tradition of chant and vesture point us to ensuring every celebration is fitting for what is, at its heart: the offering of Our Lord's sacrifice to His Heavenly Father for the redemption of our fallen humanity.  

As often as the Sacrifice of the cross by which Christ our Pasch is sacrificed (I Cor 5:7), is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out." (Lumen Gentium, 3)

O God of earth and altar,

bow down and hear our cry,

our earthly rulers falter,

our people drift and die;

the walls of gold entomb us,

the swords of scorn divide,

take not thy thunder from us,

but take away our pride.

 

From all that terror teaches,

from lies of tongue and pen,

from all the easy speeches

that comfort cruel men,

from sale and profanation

of honour, and the sword,

from sleep and from damnation,

deliver us, good Lord!

 

Tie in a living tether

the prince and priest and thrall,

bind all our lives together,

smite us and save us all;

in ire and exultation

aflame with faith, and free,

lift up a living nation, 

a single sword to thee.

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August 5th, 2014The Relevance of Distributismby Joseph Pearce

I've just received an e-mail from someone enquiring about the contemporary relevance and practical applicability of distributism. I'm posting the pertinent part of the text of the e-mail below. My response follows.

Here's the text of the e-mail:

I recently read a brief interview with Patrick Deneen commenting on the disconnect between Catholic neo-conservatives mobilizing on behalf of the Church’s teaching on social and moral issues and their often lack of mobilization in the economic realm, sort of succumbing to the rapaciousness of global capitalism and neglecting the arguments on behalf of community and place.  The money quote being “What is more striking to me is the way that many Catholics of the stripe we are discussing are strenuous in their insistence that, on the one hand, the public square should not be stripped of religion and morality, but that the Market should have a wardrobe like that of Lady Godiva.”
 
Anyway, in that context a reference to Chesterton and Belloc’s distributism arose, and its value in support of community and solidarity and the human telos.  And superficially, at least, it is indeed attractive. 
 
But do you know of any good sources or readings (or have any particular thoughts) on what it might look like today?  Surely we aren’t going to return to 19th century agrarianism much less Shire-like communities of skilled crafts and trade.  That seems an impossibility, especially given the pace of technological and global change, unless we are going to implement far stronger walls (real or virtual) to recreate a sense of distance and duration and patience again. 

Here's my response:

I would recommend Schumacher's Small is Beautiful and my own Small is Still Beautiful as books you should read on the practical applicability of distributist ideas to today's world. I would also recommend The Church and the Libertarian by Christopher A. Ferrera, The Church and the Usurers by Brian M. McCall, and Towards a Truly Free Market by John Médaille.

For a brief discussion of distributism and its contemporary relevance and applicability, here's the link to an article on the subject that I wrote recently for the Imaginative Conservative

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/06/what-is-distributism.html

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August 5th, 2014What is Civilization?by Joseph Pearce

Are we approaching the end of civilization as we know it? If so, what exactly is the end of civilization as we know it? And can we know that civilization is ending unless we know the ends which civilization serves? In short and in sum, what exactly is civilization? This question is asked and answered in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative: 

 http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/08/civilization.html

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August 5th, 2014Flannery After Fifty Yearsby Dena Hunt

For the innumerable fans of Flannery O’Conner, Dr. Regis Martin writes eloquently in Crisis:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/flannery-oconnor-fifty-years

And for fans of the interminable discussion of Catholicism in fiction, a friend identifies what she calls “the money quote” from that essay:

“The Catholic novel,” she wrote, “is not necessarily about a Christianized or Catholicized world, but one in which the truth as Christians know it has been used as a light to see the world by.”

Verily.

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August 5th, 2014The Catholic Writers Guild Conferenceby Dena Hunt

I just returned from the CWG conference in Chicago, not so much fired up to write as restored by the camaraderie of other writers. True, there were workshops on writing, publishing; there were “pitch” sessions with a few publishers (which don’t mean a thing to me, since I couldn’t sell water to someone dying of thirst.) There were panel discussions and presentations on such topics as handling rejection, maintaining perseverance—or on philosophical topics such as composition of art vs. representation. But, for me, the great benefit of the CWG conference is the chat, the constant conversation with people who are as lop-sided as I am, who spend too much time reading, who can’t resist story-telling, people who are the best audience in the world for other story-tellers because they are natural critics—those who have a natural reflex to edit, augment, suggest, in ways that are always constructive. There is an indescribable feeling of benevolence amongst Catholic writers. We actually crave each other’s success.

Why is that, I had to ask myself. How is this different from others—not that I’ve ever attended more than a couple of others. And the answer was obvious: because we are not so much just for ourselves. There is something larger that we’re all deeply involved with, that matters way more than our own successes. And so we’re delighted to learn that AnnMarie’s Angela’s Song is doing well, elated when Arthur’s A Hero for the People wins the Catholic Arts and Letters Award, even though that means our own novels did not win. Of course it’s gratifying when one’s own work receives positive attention, but I think we all know how dangerous flattery can be, so it’s not excessive or hypocritical, just the feedback we actually need and no more. We understand the psychological and emotional pitfalls that any writer must avoid, and all sorts of other earth-bound dangers, but we also know the spiritual dangers. That’s the difference. What other writers’ conference begins with Mass each morning, offers confession, and has exposition of the Blessed Sacrament all day long? Besides, look who we hang out with:

 

 

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August 4th, 2014Belloc’s Grandson, Dom Philip Jebb, RIPby Joseph Pearce

Having just returned from this year's rambunctious Chesterton Conference, I was pleased to receive an e-mail from Kirk Kramer, giving his own personal reminiscences of Hilaire Belloc's grandson, Dom Philip Jebb, who entered into his eternal inheritance a few weeks ago.

I also had the honour and pleasure of meeting Dom Philip at Downside Abbey as part of my research for my biography of his grandfather. Apart from speaking with fondness and eloquence about Belloc, he offered some delightful anecdotes about the great convert poet, Siegfried Sassoon.

I've been meaning to write my own tribute to Dom Philip Jebb but my travel commitments have prevented me from doing so. As such, I'm grateful to Kirk for sending his own memories and also two obituaries from British newspapers, all of which I'm pleased to post below.

Kirk Kramer writes:

Belloc's grandson Dom Philip Jebb, a monk of Downside Abbey in
England, died recently.  In 1997 I travelled to Europe for the
priestly ordination of my fellow Oklahoman Rob Torczynski, an alumnus of
Pearson College who became a Carthusian monk.  Before continuing on to
France to see Rob (Dom Marie-Robert) priested by Bishop Slattery at
his charterhouse near Bourg-en-Bresse, I spent several days in the UK,
including a week-end in the guesthouse at Downside.  I had contacted
Dom Philip to make arrangements for my stay, and spent a fair bit of
time with him that week-end.  I asked him about his grandfather, in
whose Sussex house Dom Philip spent his boyhood.  Since they lived
under the same roof, Dom Philip knew him very well, and regarded him
with great affection.

Dom Philip had a particular apostolate to those who have lost a
spouse, and wrote a volume of meditations simply titled 'Widowed.'  He
also edited a collection of essays by widows called 'By Death Parted.'
 In the '80s, both books were published in America by the Benedictine
nuns of Petersham, Mass., but they are unfortunately now out of print.

I give two obituaries below; the one from 'The Independent' is much
more gracefully written.

Pray peace for the soul of Dom Philip Jebb.



The Independent
OBITUARIES
Dom Philip Jebb: Monk who became a leading figure in the Benedictine
order and was a perceptive counsellor to lay people
Wednesday 2 July 2014

Dom Philip Jebb was a leading figure in the Benedictine order of
monks, as a teacher, archivist, a perceptive counsellor to laymen and
religious alike, and a respected headmaster of Downside Abbey, in
Somerset.

Jebb took the helm at Downside at a fractious moment for one of
Britain's longest-established Catholic public schools. It was a time
of pupil disturbances, with "flash mob" events such as a mass midnight
demonstration in the main courtyard to demand better school food.

Jebb re-established order by showing himself a strict but fair
disciplinarian, and earned a reputation for having a near-psychic feel
for where and when trouble was brewing. Even, it was said, an ability
to bilocate. This personal myth, his evident self-discipline, and a
fair, statesman-like approach to his pupils, combined to get the
school back on an even keel.

Jebb was of average height, but had penetrating eyes and an imposing
physical presence. He spoke, and preached, with a soft, cooing tenor
voice. And when something delighted him he would emit an expressive,
sighing "Aaaaah", on a descending chromatic scale. But when order had
to be imposed, his voice could take on a withering, steely tone.

To his confrères in the monastery he seemed an indefatigable man of
action. He was a keen walker, fencer and canoeist (he once paddled the
length of the Grand Union Canal), and he had revelled in the country
around his childhood home in Sussex, collecting fossils and Roman
pottery. He later collected postcards on a grand scale and made
exquisite model clipper ships in a bottle from matchsticks and paper.

The timetable of a headmaster added to that of a monk, and providing
counsel to the sick or dying, was taxing even to a man of Jebb's
stamina. His solution was to take a nap each afternoon, learning to go
instantly to sleep, and awaking refreshed 20 minutes later.

Anthony Jebb was born in 1932 at Spode House (now Hawkesyard Hall),
near Armitage in Staffordshire, which his parents, Rex Jebb and
Eleanor Belloc, had leased in 1928 from the Dominican Order, to run as
a Catholic prep school. "Ant" Jebb was the second son and third child
in a family of four children.

Their upbringing in a devout, high-minded household was as unworldly
as could be, but each of them achieved a personal renown. The eldest,
Marianne, became a nun, one of the Canonesses of St Augustine, of Our
Lady's Priory, Haywards Heath, and a witty, much-loved headmistress of
its girls' school. The eldest son, Philip ("Pip"), was one of the
leading private-client architects in Britain, equally adept at
creating new buildings and restoring old. The youngest, Julian, was an
ubiquitous figure in the literary world in London, producer of
imaginative arts documentaries for the BBC.

When Ant became a novice monk at Downside in 1950 he was asked to take
the name Brother Philip. He demurred, given that he had an elder
brother of the same name. But the novice master insisted that they
were in need of a Philip, guaranteeing a lifetime of confusion for the
whole family.

Rex Jebb was Ant's first model of what a teacher, and an exemplary
Christian, could be. He was a classical scholar, softly spoken, with a
well-populated mind, and had won the MC for gallantry during the
Dardanelles campaign. He had owned a successful Anglican prep school,
Aldwick, near Crowborough in Sussex. When he married the daughter of
the Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc in Westminster Cathedral in 1922,
he remained in the Protestant faith of his birth. Eleanor Jebb was a
strong-willed, mercurial figure, unburdened by exaggerated respect for
the clergy. When Rex Jebb eventually became a Catholic himself he felt
morally bound to give up the Anglican school and start a Catholic
establishment.

After the Jebbs gave up the school at Hawkesyard in 1935, they moved
to live with Belloc at King's Land, near Horsham, in West Sussex. Here
there was a family chapel and a steady stream of visitors from the
Catholic world, among them leading preachers and writers of the day.

After being schooled at home, Jebb went in 1942 to Worth, the
preparatory school for Downside School, and to Downside proper in
1944. Like all his siblings, Jebb flowered intellectually in his early
twenties. He studied Classics at Christ's College, Cambridge, and
became a skilled solver of hidden meanings in Classical inscriptions,
and latterly an accomplished historian, archivist for the Benedictine
order and the driving force behind the building of the new monastic
library at Downside. Jebb was devoted to his siblings, his nephews,
nieces, Belloc cousins and the large wider family of Lucy Pollen, wife
of his brother Pip. His golden jubilee as a priest in 2006 was
celebrated by a large clan gathering at the monastery.

Jebb's vivid accounts of his own experience of religion made him an
engaging preacher. And he was a willing public speaker outside the
church – his proudest moment in the latter sphere was his address to
the AGM of the Women's Institute in the Albert Hall.

One of his most intriguing subjects was his engagement with
out-of-body experiences. He enjoyed walks at Downside, knowing that he
could pause in the fields, and take himself out of his body, and back,
at will. It was at these times of religious ecstasy – standing outside
himself – that he felt close to great good but also to great evil. One
day he went out as usual and lay down to pray. As he looked back at
his body he realised with horror that he could not get back in, and he
saw his body growing colder on the hillside. He eventually got back
in, but never sought an out-of-body experience again.

Jebb felt he learnt enormously from working with the sick (he took
groups to Lourdes as a chaplain to the Order of Malta). And he would
visit or telephone his ailing charges not once but regularly. He was
as constant and dogged as a counsellor as he was as a schoolmaster,
walker or archivist. When helping a dying parishioner, he told her of
having once received an unforgettable premonition of heaven, something
still so vivid that he wished he could change places with her. It was
an offer powerful in the extreme for its recipient both because it was
so surprising, and because he meant it.

Anthony Jebb, monk and teacher: born Hawkesyard, Staffordshire 14
August 1932; monk of Downside Abbey, as Dom Philip Jebb, 1950-2014;
Head Master, Downside School 1980-91; died Bath 8 June 2014.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/dom-philip-jebb-monk-who-became-a-leading-figure-in-the-benedictine-order-and-was-a-perceptive-counsellor-to-lay-people-9577069.html


London Telegraph
OBITUARIES
Dom Philip Jebb
Dom Philip was a charismatic headmaster of Downside who took a firm
line with schoolboy revolutionaries
July 22, 2014

Dom Philip Jebb, who has died aged 81, was a charismatic headmaster of
Downside School during the 1980s, when the spirit of student rebellion
ran strong and the school threatened to become ungovernable.

Many boys at Downside no longer went regularly to Mass; their hair
grew down their shoulders; they jibbed at school uniform, smoked in
their bedrooms and smouldered at any rules they considered oppressive.
The introduction of a school council with pupil representatives did
little to ease tension.

When Jebb took over in 1980, after serving as deputy head, there was
an immediate tightening of the rules and an inevitable reaction.
Several hundred pyjama-clad boys held a noisy late-night protest in
the quad, bawling abuse and ringing the school bell. But the
demonstration lasted only 10 minutes. There had always been rumbles of
protests about a new head, Jebb told the press, adding that there
would be no retribution.

But he showed an iron resolve when some boys, returning from lunch on
a day out, borrowed a digger they found on the side of road. It was a
time of fear about IRA terrorists, and one of the boys — the son of a
well-known actor — put on a thick Irish brogue when the police drove
up. Arriving back at school in a squad car, he and his companions
found the headmaster drumming his fingers on the arms of the throne in
the hall, waiting to dish out a fearsome dressing-down.

Jebb ended a four-year experiment with girl pupils, saying that
unmarried monks were unsuited to coping with their problems. When
Labour made undefined threats against private schools, he warned that
the Downside community could return to the Continent, where it had
spent almost 200 years before being driven out by the French
Revolution.

Anthony Jebb, as he was baptised, was born in Staffordshire on August
14 1932, the son of a prep school master who took his wife and four
children to live with his father-in-law, the writer Hilaire Belloc, in
Sussex. The boy was close to his grandfather, who was frail, gruff and
frequently grumpy. On one occasion Belloc shouted from his bedroom
that he could not move, which brought in the family to discover that
he had inserted both feet into one trouser leg. Nevertheless he could
still demonstrate a remarkable store of knowledge, and his grandson
developed a fascination with the past, to the extent that he longed to
be a venerable old man [what an admirable ambition.  One grows closer
to achieving it every day.]

In 1940 the rural peace of Sussex was disturbed by the Battle of
Britain being fought overhead. While his father made Molotov cocktails
to greet the expected German invaders, Ant scoured the night skies
with a telescope and found a severed hand beside a crashed German
bomber. On being sent to Downside, aged 10, he arrived at Bath station
just after it had been obliterated by a raid, and in his first year at
the school he found himself just yards from a cricket pavilion when a
training aircraft crashed nearby, killing nine boys. The incident
haunted him ever after, but he retained a high-spirited thirst for new
experience, once volunteering to box against a larger boy in the hope
of experiencing being knocked out.

On entering the monastery at 18, Ant took the religious name Philip
(that of his older brother, an architect), and plunged into the
discovery of prayer, ranging from delirious joy to black
depression.“This is marvellous,” an older monk told him. “I wish I
were with you in this.”

After ordination Jebb taught at Worth Priory for a year, then read
classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he was an enthusiastic
archaeologist and as a good club fencer, became a member of “The
Cambridge Cutthroats” fencing team, whose team outfit featured a black
motorcycle jacket.

On returning to Downside he had hopes of a scholarly career, and
edited Missale de Lesnes, a mediaeval manuscript published by the
Henry Bradshaw Society; but he found that intense study brought on
severe migraines. Instead, he took on a local parish, taught Classics
and RE in the school, and ran the fencing club, which was to produce
the Olympic champion Richard Cohen.

Soon appointed a housemaster, he had a brush with the spirit world
when two boys playing with an Ouija board late at night suddenly felt
an atmosphere of evil. When they woke him he first thought they were
joking, but on learning that they were not, he burst into the room
shouting: “In the name of God begone!” From then on the boys involved
would not go to bed without a special blessing every night, and a
crucifix was placed on the wall of the room.

On stepping down as headmaster in 1991, Jebb was disappointed not to
be chosen as abbot; but he made a wise deputy as prior, was the
annalist for the English Benedictine Congregation and played a key
role in organising the new monastic library, including a wide-ranging
collection of postcards. “Never throw anything away,” he would say.
“Even laundry bills might be interesting one day.”

In addition he was a chaplain to the Order of Malta, which took pupils
to tend the sick at Lourdes, and an assistant chaplain to Shepton
Mallet military prison. He was much in demand as a profound and witty
preacher.

Though a reluctant author, Jebb wrote and contributed to works on
education, widowhood and grieving, and spent many hours on the phone
talking to the sorrowful and the bereaved.

Delighted to be appointed Cathedral Prior of Bath, a titular office
going back to the pre-Reformation Church, Jebb liked to tell new monks
on retreat that they were joining the most marvellous group of men
since the Twelve Apostles.

Dom Philip Jebb, born August 14 1932, died June 8 2014

-------

With a great fencing photo of Dom Philip 'executing a horizontal
fleche against the future Olympian Richard Cohen':

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10983655/The-Very-Reverend-Dom-Philip-Jebb-obituary.html

from the website of his monastery:

http://www.downside.co.uk/Abbey/news/downside_abbey_news_detail.php?Dom-Philip-Jebb-RIP-114

http://www.downside.co.uk/cmsAdmin/uploads/Dom-Philip-Jebb1.pdf

The writer, a sometime gandy dancer for the Frisco Railroad, hails from Miami, Oklahoma.

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August 4th, 2014The Cult of Chesterton and the Grace of Godby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

MYSTICISM in its noblest sense, mysticism as it existed in St. John, and Plato, and Paraceleus, and Sir Thomas Browne, is not an exceptionally dark and secret thing, but an exceptionally luminous and open thing. It is in reality too clear for most of us to comprehend, and too obvious for most of us to see. Such an utterance as the utterance that “God is Love” does in reality overwhelm us like an immeasurable landscape on a clear day, like the light of an intolerable summer sun. We may call it a dark saying; but we have an inward knowledge all the time that it is we who are dark. - G. K. Chesterton


Every year The American Chesterton Society Annual Conference is filled with grace.

"Be imitators of me as I am of Christ," said St. Paul (1 Cor. 11:1).  But a certain 300 pound cigar smoking saint could have said the same.  And that is why we love him and his writings.

There is no way to describe the blessing these conferences are.  I have tried in the past and I always fall short.  But this year a few things struck me.

  • These conferences - these Inns at the End of the World - are not mere glimpses of what heaven might be - they are heaven present and at work here and now.  

  • Our saint is interceding for us and through him God is working miracles in big and small ways every day.  His wife Frances is part of that, too.  We of little faith sometimes don't see that.  Sometimes we don't look.

  • There are some who came for the first time and who immediately got it.  Some of them will never forget the palpable grace that washes over us when we Chestertonians gather.  Some will hear the music, the mixture of joy and sorrow, the four lost chords, that they've never quite heard anywhere else before.  But all of us will forget the tune just a bit as the thicker air of the valley numbs our senses - until we are awakened to it again in more rarefied moments; others will shove cotton in their ears and suffocate the sound and we will never see them again.  But you can never forget the Holy Spirit, and such moments of intimacy with the Divine will work through us forever, in one way or another.

  • This is not what the Church ought to be.  It's what the Church is.


The American Chesterton Society Conference of 2014 was held at the University of St. Mary on the Lake, Mundelein, IL - near Chicago.

With actress Maria Romine (left) and Dave Treadway (center), who received his First Communion at the Vigil Mass on Saturday.  I was proud to be Dave's sponsor for his journey into the Catholic Church.  He's our fourth actor to convert.

A mosaic of Our Lady of Sorrows, which I stumbled upon in the woods between the chapel and Marytown.


Other surprises we found on our walk.

Dale Ahlquist opens the Conference on Thursday night.

At the closing banquet, Timothy Quigley and his wife Caroline got to drink from the Cup of Inconvenience.


Chuck Chalberg (center) at the banquet.  He plays Chesterton on Dale's EWTN TV series - which will have new episodes airing in September!  I'm on quite a few myself this season.

Dave and Dale looking at pictures of Dave's First Communion, which had taken place not long before in the chapel behind them.

Deacon Nathan Allen talks to Dave Treadway.  Nathan discussed the differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Old Testament, quoting from both.

Two new attendees - Virginia, an MD from Chile (left, turned away from the camera); Anna, who's studying in England; and Joseph Pearce.

At the Super Eight - Nathan Allen (left), Maria Romine (with camera), Virginia from Chile.  Virginia has written a scientific paper that will be published in a medical journal that references J. R. R. Tolkien and G. K. Chesterton.  First time that's happened!  Her work was inspired by Joseph Pearce.

Caroline Quigley, mouth full of food - breakfast at the Super Eight.

Best picture of the Conference.  My buddy Leo Schwartz with three of the charming Chester-chicks.

Two other Chester-chicks, homeschooled girls from Iowa, educated well enough to appreciate the greatest writer of the 20th Century.


David and me, after First Communion.


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July 30th, 2014When Nice Turns Nastyby Joseph Pearce

Is nice nasty? Is it nasty to be nice? All is revealed in my latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/07/nice-turns-nasty.html

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July 30th, 2014The Mysterious Grace of Conversionby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

I was an atheist at age nine.  I was spiritual but not religious at age 18.  I had a surprising and profound conversion experience when I was 36.  And on July 30, 2000 - fourteen years ago today - my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church.  I was 39 at the time.

I later learned that that was the same date that G. K. Chesterton was received into the Catholic Church, 78 years prior, in 1922.  More than any other person, Chesterton, by God's grace, and his writings, had made me a Catholic.  So the fact that Divine Providence arranged for me to come in, unwittingly, on his anniversary was a great and humbling honor.

***

I founded Theater of the Word Incorporated, my acting troupe which travels the country evangelizing through drama, in 2007.  Since then, we've performed hundreds of shows, and, while our impact on audiences has been unknowable, our impact on our own actors has been profound.  Until today, three of our actors had converted, either from Protestant to Catholic, or from Nothing to Christian.  Today I was honored to see the reception of our fourth, David Treadway, and to act as his sponsor.

You'll notice that Dave, too, has come in on the anniversary of Chesterton's reception, and the anniversary of the reception of my wife Karen and me.  This was not planned!  

Dave has been taking private instruction from Canon Ueda - a very devout and caring priest of the Institute of Christ the King here in St. Louis - for many months, and back in April, with Canon Ueda's blessing, we arranged for Dave to be received and confirmed at the Vigil Mass of the American Chesterton Society's Annual Conference, held this year at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.  In fact, a group of us are heading to the Conference, primary to see Dave received and confirmed.  Chesterton and the Chestertonians have been very instrumental in Dave's conversion, as well, and this is why Dave chose to do this.

But at the last minute a monkey wrench was thrown into the works, when the archdiocese of Chicago flatly said that Dave could not be received at Mundelein.  But God works in mysterious ways - even through the impenetrable mysteries of chaneries and bureucracies.  

And so, with the help of some of my friends here in the archdiocese of St. Louis, we found a solution.  Dave could be received here in town before heading to the Conference, make his first Confession to a priest this weekend while at the Conference, and take his first communion at the Conference's Vigil Mass on Saturday, Aug. 2 - thus keeping the plan more or less in place.  We'll all be honored to be present at Dave's First Communion (his confirmation will take place later).

And the kindly priest here who agreed to receive Dave (Fr. Johnson) at St. Justin Martyr church in St. Louis, scheduled it for today, July 30.

Divine Providence continues to work in our lives, and, now that he's in, David Treadway will make a better Catholic than I am, by far.

David, a very devout Christian, has dealt with more obstacles to his conversion than anyone I've ever known.  Maybe he, like my actress Maria Romine, and me can someday go on EWTN's The Journey Home and tell his amazing conversion story as Maria and I did - though it make take two hours, rather than one, for Dave to describe it!

Dave Treadway (left), Timothy Quigley and me with lots of beer on a Theater of the Word tour to North Dakota, 2013.



***

So, David, allow our patron G. K. Chesterton and me to welcome you into the Catholic Church.

My advice to you, having been in now for fourteen years, would be the following ...

  • The Church is filled with sinners as well as saints, and you'll be dismayed to discover how you'll be sinning right there along with them, despite the tremendous sacramental grace that's now available to you.  But just keep repenting, praying, and seeking Christ in the sacraments.
  • The Spirit of Unreality is the greatest threat to devout Catholics these days - the temptation to make God and His Church into a kind of idol, something that we can control and make use of for our own narrow ends.  We see this in factionalism, contrived and bad music and homilies, the reluctance of the Church realistically to value services received and to pay for them, and in a general fear-of-the-Fear-of-God and of the workings of His Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • Keep a sense of humor and pray for humility.   
  • Listen to Pope Francis.  Don't become insular, paranoid or closed-in.  Bring people to Christ and bring Christ to people.  Your days as an Evangelical are just beginning.

G. K. Chesterton, pray for us.

***

I'll see many of you this weekend in Chicago.  Make sure you come up and congratulate Dave.

David Treadway, welcome home!

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July 30th, 2014Word on Fire and Beauteous Truthby Joseph Pearce

I'm pleased to announce the publication of my interview with Jared Zimmerer for Fr. Robert Barron's website, Word on Fire:

http://wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-Blog/July-2014/Beauteous-Truth--An-Interview-with-Joseph-Pearce.aspx

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July 28th, 2014Beauteous Praise from the Heart of Belloc Countryby Joseph Pearce

I have been greatly heartened by some fulsome praise for my latest book from the very heart of Belloc country, i.e. Sussex in England. I hope that visitors to the Ink Desk will permit me the self-indulgence of sharing it:


At last! My copy of Beauteous Truth arrived today. I seized it from the postman, took it off to a corner, like a dog with a particularly juicy bone, and devoured it in one sitting, growling ferociously at every interruption. I shall now spend the next week or so re-reading it before finding it a permanent place on my shelves, next to Literary Converts and Literary Giants, Literary Catholics.

What a pleasure it is to read someone who cares for truth and not for cultural fads and fashions! Your excoriations of postmodern 'kulchur' reminded me of a line from (I think) Wyndham Lewis's One-Way Song (Chesterton-like, I quote from memory so the words may not be exact):- 'Ours is a little age, when the blind pygmy treads in hypnotized crusades against all splendor'. Quite. But, for precisely that reason, it is good to be reminded of the splendor, and, time and again, your essays did just that. Belloc and Baring, Chesterton and Dawson, Lewis and Tolkien, Greene and Solzhenitsyn, sprang vividly to life from your pages. Criticism was both fair-minded and robust, as criticism should be: a welcome change from the mealy-mouthed platitudes and anodyne observations that so often pass for criticism these days.

Anyway, I couldn't resist writing to thank you for these splendid essays, and to second Cardinal Burke's hope that we may look forward to further volumes of essays in future. In the meantime, I intend to recommend this volume to all my friends. I shall be meeting some of them in a Sussex pub next week, so we'll drink your health in a pint (or three) of Harvey's!

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July 28th, 2014Beauteous Truthby Joseph Pearce

Having just returned from a mini-speaking tour of northern California which culminated with my participation at this year's Napa Institute Conference, I'm delighted to find this review of my latest book on Randy Hain's Integrated Catholic Life website: http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2014/07/randy-hain-joseph-pearce-and-beauteous-truth/

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July 25th, 2014A “Gay Catholic Romance Novel”?by Dena Hunt

I’m particularly gratified with this review of The Lion’s Heart from Aletia. The novel is new, and while reviews have been good, it’s always a pleasure to hear from a reader who just seems to “get it,” regardless of how they title their reviews:

http://go.aleteia.org/SPlL0PJ

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July 24th, 2014Parsing Tolkien’s Letter on Love and Romanceby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Tolkien's amazing letter to his son Michael deserves a closer look.  Here it is again, with some commentary by me in boldface.  

***



A man's dealings with women can be purely physical (they cannot really, of course: but I mean he can
refuse to take other things into account, to the great damage of his soul (and body) and theirs); or
'friendly'; or he can be a 'lover' (engaging and blending all his affections and powers of mind and body in a complex emotion powerfully coloured and energized by 'sex'). 

Tolkien is setting up here three possibilities in relations between men and women: 

1. A man can relate to a woman merely for the sake of physical pleasure (though really this can never happen, for we can never separate our bodies and our souls, and great harm of some sort comes to those men who try to do this; great harm also comes to the women involved)

2. A man can be "friends" with a woman (before old age, this is almost impossible on any intimate level without the complications of love or attraction, as he points out later)

3. Or a man can be a woman's "lover" - this love being something which engages his whole self, but which still tends to be primarily an emotional experience, "energized by sex".

This is stunningly perceptive stuff, loaded with common sense - as is the rest of the letter.  Read on!

This is a fallen world. The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been 'going to the bad' all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its special dangers: but the 'hard spirit of concupiscence' has walked down every street, and sat leering in every house, since Adam fell. 

What beautiful prose, right to the point and very evocative.  "The hard spirit of concupiscence" is our innate predilection to sin, especially sexual sin.

We will leave aside the 'immoral' results. These you desire not to be dragged into. To renunciation you have no call. 'Friendship' then? 

He is giving advice to his son.  Michael does not want to give himself to "immoral" relationships with women (fornication).  But he's not called to "renunciation" (celibacy and the priesthood).  Is friendship then the only option left?

In this fallen world the 'friendship' that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man and woman. The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favourite subject. He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones. This 'friendship' has often been tried: one side or the other nearly always fails. Later in life when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a 'friendship' quite independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost certainly, by 'falling in love'. 

This has to be qualified a bit, lest Tolkien sound too harsh and hypercritical.  

And the qualifier is this: of course, all of us have friends of the opposite sex.  But those are more acquaintances than examples of deep friendship, and the level of emotional and spiritual intimacy is generally tepid or restrained.  It has been my experience that any "friendship" I have with a woman is either

1. At a level of cordiality and restraint: a pleasant acquaintanceship of mutual affection and limited "sharing";

2. Or fraught with "erotic" complications (meaning complications of the love known as Eros, which is more than just sex) - where emotional and spiritual sharing, once past a certain level, invariably leads (quite naturally) not only to attraction but to the building up of mutual obligations, which must ultimately go unfulfilled and renounced by one or the other party - unless the friendship is a courtship building toward marriage.  This is true whether the "friends" add on "benefits" or not.  It's not so much sex that complicates such relationships, but Eros.

But a young man does not really (as a rule) want 'friendship', even if he says he does. There are plenty of young men (as a rule). He wants love: innocent, and yet irresponsible perhaps. Allas! Allas! that ever love was sinne! as Chaucer says. Then if he is a Christian and is aware that there is such a thing as sin, he wants to know what to do about it.

So the problem is love.  How do we love without sin?  Quoting Chaucer leads Tolkien into a penetrating analysis of "courtly love".

There is in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition still strong, though as a product of Christendom (yet by no means the same as Christian ethics) the times are inimical to it. 

Note that chivalry grew out of Christendom, but that chivalry is not the same thing as Christian ethics.  Tolkien proceeds to show how chivalry and "courtly love" differs from Christian ethics, and he gives a very mature and balanced treatment of the subject.  

One might wonder, "What does chivalry have to do with the modern world?  How does this affect a young man - or even a mature man - trying to love without sin?  Chivalry is dead, isn't it?  The times are inimical to it, as Tolkien said."  Well, no, chivalry is not dead; it lives on in the Romantic tradition of literature and art, and its notion of Romantic Love can be seen in every movie or novel of the modern age (except very recent pieces of trash like Hangover).  It's a tradition that tugs deeply at our souls, as it is very evocative of Eros and Agape - of our call to love with great passion, interest, devotion and surrender: it takes what Christ has revealed about love and applies it (imperfectly but very effectively) to the secular world.  It is love of God applied to the opposite sex - which has its problems, as Tolkien proceeds to point out.

It idealizes 'love' — and as far as it goes can be very good, since it takes in far more than physical pleasure, and enjoins if not purity, at least fidelity, and so self-denial, 'service', courtesy, honour, and courage. Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake without reference to (and indeed contrary to) matrimony. 

The tradition of courtly love originally began as the building up of what might be called elaborate rules of adultery.  Later, it took on more dignity - but it originally focused on the problem of Eros for the married man or woman who was not finding Eros in his or her marriage.  

Its centre was not God, but imaginary Deities, Love and the Lady. It still tends to make the Lady a kind of guiding star or divinity – of the old-fashioned 'his divinity' = the woman he loves – the object or reason of noble conduct. This is, of course, false and at best make-believe. The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. But combined and harmonized with religion (as long ago it was, producing much of that beautiful devotion to Our Lady that has been God's way of refining so much our gross manly natures and emotions, and also of warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion) it can be very noble. Then it produces what I suppose is still felt, among those who retain even vestigiary Christianity, to be the highest ideal of love between man and woman. Yet I still think it has dangers. It is not wholly true, and it is not perfectly 'theocentric'. It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man's eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. (One result is for observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) To forget their desires, needs and temptations. It inculcates exaggerated notions of 'true love', as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a 'love' that will keep them always nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts).

This is one of the most stunning and beautiful paragraphs Tolkien ever wrote.  In it, he manages to criticize the romantic notion of "The Lady" in a way that is so fair and comprehensive that one marvels at the wisdom and perspective of this man.  The chivalric tradition of "The Lady" and the romantic quest she moves us to, can both inspire a man to a nobility of love, and also fool him and hurt him (and others) badly.  For we poets tend to forget that women are "companions in shipwreck and not guiding stars".  This can lead to cynicism on the one hand (there's nothing more ugly and angry than a disappointed lover, whose ideals have proven to be bubbles that have popped) or to "the squalor of the divorce courts" on the other.  "My wife is not My Lady!  My Lady calls to me from afar!  My Lady is hot and sexy and understands me!  My wife is dumpy and crabby and knows me too well to adore me like her knight in shining armor that I long to be!  But my secretary understands me - or my dental hygenist does - or that young thing over there does!  Oh, stars!  Oh, fate!  Why do I have a wife and not My Lady!" (picks up phone, dials 1-800-DIVORCE).

Women really have not much part in all this, though they may use the language of romantic love, since it is so entwined in all our idioms. The sexual impulse makes women (naturally when unspoiled more unselfish) very sympathetic and understanding, or specially desirous of being so (or seeming so), and very ready to enter into all the interests, as far as they can, from ties to religion, of the young man they are attracted to. No intent necessarily to deceive: sheer instinct: the servient, helpmeet instinct, generously warmed by desire and young blood. Under this impulse they can in fact often achieve very remarkable insight and understanding, even of things otherwise outside their natural range: for it is their gift to be receptive, stimulated, fertilized (in many other matters than the physical) by the male. Every teacher knows that. How quickly an intelligent woman can be taught, grasp his ideas, see his point – and how (with rare exceptions) they can go no further, when they leave his hand, or when they cease to take a personal interest in him. But this is their natural avenue to love. Before the young woman knows where she is (and while the romantic young man, when he exists, is still sighing) she may actually 'fall in love'. Which for her, an unspoiled natural young woman, means that she wants to become the mother of the young man's children, even if that desire is by no means clear to her or explicit. And then things are going to happen: and they may be very painful and harmful, if things go wrong. Particularly if the young man only wanted a temporary guiding star and divinity (until he hitches his waggon to a brighter one), and was merely enjoying the flattery of sympathy nicely seasoned with a titillation of sex – all quite innocent, of course, and worlds away from 'seduction'.

Wow.  

It's politically incorrect these days to assert that men and women are different in any way (even physically).  But Tolkien nails it.

As to women's natural desire - I can only think of Lola Heatherton whose showbiz catch phrase was, "I want to bear your children!"  



But back to Tolkien ...

You may meet in life (as in literature) women who are flighty, or even plain wanton — I don't refer to mere flirtatiousness, the sparring practice for the real combat, but to women who are too silly to take even love seriously, or are actually so depraved as to enjoy 'conquests', or even enjoy the giving of pain – but these are abnormalities, even though false teaching, bad upbringing, and corrupt fashions may encourage them. Much though modern conditions have changed feminine circumstances, and the detail of what is considered propriety, they have not changed natural instinct. A man has a life-work, a career, (and male friends), all of which could (and do where he has any guts) survive the shipwreck of 'love'. A young woman, even one 'economically independent', as they say now (it usually really means economic subservience to male commercial employers instead of to a father or a family), begins to think of the 'bottom drawer' and dream of a home, almost at once. If she really falls in love, the shipwreck may really end on the rocks. Anyway women are in general much less romantic and more practical. Don't be misled by the fact that they are more 'sentimental' in words – freer with 'darling', and all that. They do not want a guiding star. 

Guys like me who tend to be poets and idealists find this hard to imagine, but it's very very true.  Women are much more practical than men.  Their thoughts tend to hearth and home (unless they're simply vixens, as Tolkien notes above - and vixens themselves are so twisted that they are quite unhappy with who they are, as a rule).  A woman can be idealistic in her own way, but it's usually not regarding love and romance.  Even women who have affairs usually do so to find attention, not to find the ideal man.  Thus the tendency of women to "settle", to marry men who meet minimum standards (like breathing and showing an interest in them).  It's the woman's job to "settle" - to settle down, something that does not come naturally to men.  

They may idealize a plain young man into a hero; but they don't really need any such glamour either to fall in love or to remain in it. If they have any delusion it is that they can 'reform' men. They will take a rotter open-eyed, and even when the delusion of reforming him fails, go on loving him. 

Maybe this is why they "settle".  A man believes he can always find the ideal "out there"; a woman believe she can always achieve the ideal "in here".  

They are, of course, much more realistic about the sexual relation. Unless perverted by bad contemporary fashions they do not as a rule talk 'bawdy'; not because they are purer than men (they are not) but because they don't find it funny. I have known those who pretended to, but it is a pretence. It may be intriguing, interesting, absorbing (even a great deal too absorbing) to them: but it is just plumb natural, a serious, obvious interest; where is the joke?

This opens up a great mystery.  Sex is always something ridiculous to a man, no matter how obsessed he is with it; thus men are bawdy and enjoy being bawdy.  A man always finds sex somehow humiliating or humbling and therefore funny.  Women take sex much more seriously.  There's no tension between the natural function of sex and the spiritual desires of a woman; in men there is.  Sex is somehow incongruous to us: we love it, but it's not exactly who we are - which is often the source of humor.  Women don't get that joke.

They have, of course, still to be more careful in sexual relations, for all the contraceptives. Mistakes are damaging physically and socially (and matrimonially). But they are instinctively, when uncorrupt, monogamous. Men are not. .... No good pretending. Men just ain't, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of 'revealed' ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh. Each of us could healthily beget, in our 30 odd years of full manhood, a few hundred children, and enjoy the process. Brigham Young (I believe) was a healthy and happy man. It is a fallen world, and there is no consonance between our bodies, minds, and souls.

Amen.

However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called 'self-realization' (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that — even those brought up 'in the Church'. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it. When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only —. Hence divorce, to provide the 'if only'. And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the 'real soul-mate' is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments, or His appearances). It is notorious that in fact happy marriages are more common where the 'choosing' by the young persons is even more limited, by parental or family authority, as long as there is a social ethic of plain unromantic responsibility and conjugal fidelity. But even in countries where the romantic tradition has so far affected social arrangements as to make people believe that the choosing of a mate is solely the concern of the young, only the rarest good fortune brings together the man and woman who are really as it were 'destined' for one another, and capable of a very great and splendid love. The idea still dazzles us, catches us by the throat: poems and stories in multitudes have been written on the theme, more, probably, than the total of such loves in real life (yet the greatest of these tales do not tell of the happy marriage of such great lovers, but of their tragic separation; as if even in this sphere the truly great and splendid in this fallen world is more nearly achieved by 'failure' and suffering). In such great inevitable love, often love at first sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an unfallen world. In this fallen world we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean, heart, and fidelity of will.....

Note a few things about this man and his writing.

1. His worldview is profoundly Christian - utterly and totally Christian (i. e., Catholic).

2. He has a clear-eyed even-handed vision of the reality of things as they are: fallen humanity, the workings of the Incarnation in a sinful world.

3. And yet he never loses sight of the ideal.  He is able to look at things realistically without denigrating the ideal that things invariably fall shy of.  And he is very fair to both.

... and from this fairness, one sees immense Charity.

***

Tolkien's letter continues with the story of his courtship of Michael's mother, and ends with his famous acclamation of the glories of the Blessed Sacrament.

You can read that part of it - indeed the whole thing - here.  

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July 22nd, 2014Joseph Conrad’s Prince Romanby Daniel J. Heisey

Thirty-one years ago in the journal Conradiana, C. F. Burgess had an essay, “Conrad’s Catholicism.”  As Burgess noted, critics tend to dismiss the notion of Joseph Conrad’s Catholicism, preferring to see him as a secular unbeliever.  As with any great artist, Conrad can get projected onto him the image of many of his admirers.

Born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in a part of Poland then dominated by Russia, Conrad (1857-1924) was baptized Catholic and had a funeral Mass, but for much of his life, he was not a practicing Catholic.  All the same, he identified himself as a Catholic and identified with Catholic culture.  In his fiction Conrad explored moral themes, such as in Victory (1915), where he drew upon the biblical imagery of man and woman in a Garden of Eden haunted and hunted by malevolent forces.

In his non-fiction work, Conrad also reflected upon Catholic culture and gave a glimpse into his own religious beliefs.  In Notes on Life and Letters (1921), Conrad observed that “What humanity needs is not the promise of scientific immortality, but compassionate pity in this life and infinite mercy on the Day of Judgment.”  He also declared that “Mankind has been demoralized since by its own mastery of mechanical appliances.”  In contrast to those machines, he sketched Krakow by moonlight:  “The unequal massive towers of St. Mary’s Church soared aloft into the ethereal radiance of the air, very black on their shaded sides, glowing with a soft phosphorescent sheen on the others.”

A scene drawn from his family history became a short story, “Prince Roman,” written in 1910 and first published the following year.  In it Conrad dealt with the theme of patriotism, “a somewhat discredited sentiment,” he mused, “because the delicacy of our humanitarians regards it as a relic of barbarism.”  Nevertheless, he noted, “St. Francis blessing with his last breath the town of Assisi” was not a barbarian.  The prince of the title was Prince Roman Sanguszko (1800-1881); as a boy, Conrad had briefly met him, and the prince featured in the memoirs of Conrad’s maternal uncle.

The tale is told by a man of late middle age who recalls a day in his boyhood when he had met Prince Roman.  The narrator contrasts his boyish knowledge of princes in fairy tales, “in which princes always appear young, charming, heroic, and fortunate,” with the elderly personage presented to him.  The aged prince was tall, stiff, bald, his face having “harmonious simplicity of lines” yet a “deathlike pallor.”  Moreover, the old man was stone deaf.

From that encounter emerges a description of the prince’s tragic yet heroic youth.  In 1831, the time of the November Uprising, when Poles rebelled against Russian rule, the prince was newly married and an officer in the Guards.  Prince Roman possessed “something reserved and reflective in his character,” and he was “a rather silent young man.”  Here I will say only that his strength and silence sustain him during his long exile to Siberia.

As we have seen in the life of Saint John Paul II (1920-2005), a Pole’s love for his native land and literature runs immeasurably deep.  Conrad shared that love, and however far he sailed or imagined himself, his heart returned to Poland.  “It requires a certain greatness of soul to interpret patriotism worthily,” wrote Conrad in “Prince Roman,” “or else a sincerity of feeling denied to the vulgar refinement of modern thought which cannot understand the august simplicity of a sentiment proceeding from the very nature of things and men.”

It seems that almost every high school student in the United States is required to read Conrad’s story “Heart of Darkness,” and as a result Conrad seems in danger of being remembered for that tale alone.  While it can be interesting to connect the dots between that story and T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” (1922) and the film Apocalypse Now (1979), one might not be getting the best first taste of Conrad.  Besides, some readers are put off by the narrative device of Marlow rambling on for more than a hundred pages; others, of course, are put off by anything mandated by a syllabus.

It would be better to begin with a story like “Prince Roman,” a sketch of duty and what Conrad called “quiet intrepidity,” or “The Secret Sharer,” a study of loyalty, friendship, and risk.  Novels like The Secret Agent (1907), about the grotesque folly of revolution, or Lord Jim (1900), about a flawed hero, can come next.  Like “Heart of Darkness,” Lord Jim employs the storyteller Marlow, so a mini-course for deeper Conrad studies could be built around those two works.

All the while, despite a reputation for brooding melancholy, Conrad displays dry humor and clever touches of irony.  The passage in The Secret Agent about the need for an Act of Parliament to order houses to move round the corner to their correct addresses could have come from G. K. Chesterton.  Likewise, the serenely stupid Captain MacWhirr of Typhoon could have stepped out of something by Charles Dickens.

On his many travels in Africa and the Middle East, the great explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003) had with him volumes of Conrad.  One could do worse than follow his example and spend time with Conrad’s often wry meditations on the complexity of our unchanging human nature.  Thesiger appreciated Conrad for seeing not only that continuity, but also the permanent truths of life that transcend modern fads.

Both men saw that there is much more to life than “the vulgar refinement of modern thought.”  For them, vitality came from the “august simplicity” of elemental realities.  Tellingly, Thesiger called a collection of his writings Desert, Marsh, and Mountain.  Conrad loved the sea and Poland and his adopted home of England, where he and his family lie buried in the Catholic section of the cemetery outside Canterbury, granite monuments preserving their ancestral name in a foreign land.

 

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

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July 22nd, 2014Stratford Caldecott: Go With Godby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

On July 17th, Stratford Caldecott fell asleep in the Lord after a long battle with prostate cancer. Already, many have written great words of mourning for one of the most powerful voices of Catholic cultural renewal. The author of several books (and a contributor to many more) and the co-founder and editor of Second Spring, a Catholic journal he and his wife Léonie long edited along with the UK/Irish version of Magnificat; it is hard to put into words how much of an impact this man of Christ had on so many. This is especially hard for me, as Mr. Caldecott was a friend who greatly encouraged my own work and how I view Christ in the world. In short, I am of the opinion that we will never be thankful enough for the great work of Stratford Caldecott.

A Chance Encounter

I was a Catholic for a mere three years when I had the pleasure of being introduced to Mr. Caldecott at a pub in Nashua, NH. The meeting was planned by Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, where I was studying, and I was invited along to meet a few G.K. Chesterton scholars. Upon meeting him we were quickly singing the joys of Chesterton and the Inklings. I was impressed with his intellectual calibre and he was kind enough to invite me to Oxford to view the Chesterton Library.

I twice accepted his invitation and each time I was graciously given a view of Chesterton's personal effects which included his hat, cloak, chair, typewriter, among other assorted books and items that personally belonged to the bombastic journalist and great Catholic writer. It was, for me, like being a reliquary. What I did not expect, was how much the man showing me the items would change my view of faith and my vocation.

When I returned in the Summer of 2008 I was as a part of TMC's Oxford Programme where I was to study the great works of the Catholic Literary Revival and see the sites of GKC, Newman, St. Edmund Campion, and even Lewis and the Inklings.

Love and Intellect

As part of the Oxford Programme, I had the pleasure of being a guest of Stratford and Léonie in their home just outside of Oxford. In our courses, dinners, and walks I got to see first hand what a loving couple they were and how their love for each other and Christ enabled them to accomplish so much. They were partners in everything, from parenting to publishing. No doubt that there were struggles, but they endured them with a rarely-seen grace that allowed them to do so much for the Church in England, the United States, and beyond. Along with running the Oxford Programme, they seemed to have a hand in running dozens of programs that involved sharing and understanding the faith. From that family they created more work for the glory of God than most of us will accomplish in a lifetime.

In my own work and intellectual pursuits they were encouraging, but honest. They cared about a revival of Catholic culture and the conversion of all, and that meant encouraging writers and editors. The number of writers that they have encouraged and had a hand in developing is staggering, even among the writers here at CE. As well as mentors, they became my friends and were a joy to know.

StratTheir greatest lesson was the unspoken one of the centrality of the love for Christ in all that we do and how much that love was so badly needed to be shown to the world. For them, Christ was not merely a thing to gaze upon and consider but He was a light that illuminated the world. Literature, art, and even the most everyday pursuits became something beautiful for God and they delighted to show people this joy.

When Stratford was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, it shook many of us to our core. Even with the battle that he was enduring, he still published a great deal of work and he and his wife continued in their endeavours with editing, publishing, and the fantastic work at the Center for Faith and Culture. Across the world, many prayers were offered and they demonstrated love, charity, and kindness to all who encountered them. When I was going through a rough patch, they even took time to write encouraging messages to me. Seeing their strength amidst their sufferings had given me the resolve to keep carrying on.

 

#CapforStrat

A few months ago, with the Caldecott family gathering to offer comfort to Stratford, Sophie, his daughter, launched a hashtag campaign called #CapforStrat with the intention of bringing some comfort to him. The plan was to tweet images in support of Stratford and to hopefully get celebrities involved to allow him to watch The Winter Soldier in his home. Stratford had long been a fan of comic books, especially those by Marvel, but was unable to make it to the theaters to see their latest film. Sophie was successful and Marvel agreed to show the film. So many people gathered in support of one man, some of whom were his friend but many others were strangers who wished to bring some comfort to a good man. It was as if the world was giving him a final embrace.

As his name went viral and as he came closer to death, Stratford would demonstrate great courage and hope in the face of death. In one of his last articles, Stratford reflected on his love of comics and the mystery of facing death. Realizing this challenge, he still saw the work of Christ in all things, even the tragic. Seeing Christ's hand in all, he wrote,

God entered deeply into the world—so deeply that we can call it a merging, a uniting of his own nature with the world itself. It is no illusion, but a real uniting. We can participate by joining in the rhythm of life and death. God hides himself deeply within the world, not as an extension of life, such as an experience or two, but as the totality of being. At first it all seems inaccessible and impossible. The Cross seems impossible, incredible. It seems foolish, crazy. But we must join fully, deeply, truly. And we must start as soon as possible.

 

Go With God

So it is that we now say goodbye to a good man, a fine scholar, a loving father and husband, and truly one of the most brilliant writers of our era. This is hard for many, but we do not mourn like those who have no hope. Stratford served Christ well, and we now pray that he continues to do so and that he will finally be in a place where there is no pain and where joy quickly replaces all sorrow.

Goodbye, Stratford, thank you for all the great conversations and good words of wisdom. Thank you for being a reflection of the love of Christ for so many throughout the world. Thank you for all the lessons, especially the lesson that Christ really wants to reveal Himself to us and that all that is required is for us to open ourselves up to Him. Thank you for showing us that God really has united Himself with us to make all things new. Let us never forget.

This originally appeared at Catholic Exchange and is republished with permission. 

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July 21st, 2014The Arabic Writing on the Wallby Joseph Pearce

In between travels. Just back from Florida and soon destined for California. In haste. Here's my latest for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/07/arabic-writing-wall-europe-learns-hard-way.html

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July 21st, 2014It’s that business of pronouns again…by Dena Hunt

…and I keep coming back to it. As ridiculous as it sounds, sometimes it seems that what we need most of all is a good lesson in grammar. Okay, so I’m a caricature of an old maid English teacher. I wear reading glasses on the bridge of my nose, and I even wear my hair in a bun sometimes (though I never stick a pencil it.) But look at all the woes that could be remedied if we paid attention to our pronouns. What is this third-person we use so reflexively? Ever notice reflex> reflexive> reflexive pronouns? Well, it’s a stretch, I admit, but-- Every single complaint one has against one’s mate, friend, parent, child, or anyone “other,” has to be—first of all—recognized. How does recognition happen? It is a re-; i.e., repetition, of cognition—which means knowledge, knowledge in the sense of familiarity, something we know by personal experience of it. We must first possess cognition before we can go for recognition.

So, the childhood expression we used to employ to answer a taunt, “Takes one to know one!” is absolutely true. Now, let’s look at the accusation: “He is a hypocrite.”  Really? How is it you recognize a hypocrite? You have to have prior personal knowledge of hypocrisy; whence comes that knowledge? Before any such accusation can be made, prior personal knowledge must exist. So, let’s identify the realreflexive (though unspoken) pronoun (-self, selves) here: I am, myself, a hypocrite. I recognize myself in you. Such recognition should lead more to fraternity than to condemnation.

This little reflection provides a new way to look at “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” No stone was cast. No stone could be cast. Everyone who accused the poor sinner of adultery was himself an adulterer. The Lord makes the reflexive pronoun the operative determiner of guilt, because it is the revelation of real guilt.

I tried an exercise one Lent that was so successful I have kept it up (or tried to), and I’ve observed its near-universal success when others have tried it. Every critical thought I had about another person or persons, I changed to I or We.  It works. Whatever unkind thing I have to say about anyone, I say about the mirror instead.

Today’s Gospel about the parable of the wheat and the tares reminded me—and I admit I needed reminding. Why is it necessary to leave the harvesting of the field to the angels? Because, like the adulterers who would stone an adulterer, the only ones among us who can recognize tares are other tares.

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July 21st, 2014Tsar Nicholas II—Saint or Egomaniacby Brendan D. King

It is far from uncommon to find admirers of both the House of Romanov and of Tsar Nicholas II. He is seen as a loving family man and a well meaning, but ineffectual ruler. As this post shall reveal, however, there was also another side to the personality of the Last Tsar.

Throughout the Great War, the French Ambassador to the Russian Imperial Court, Maurice Paleologue, kept a detailed diary. Following his return to France, M. Paleologue published his diary in three volumes. In 1925, George H. Doran & Company published an English translation under the title, "An Ambassador's Memoirs." 

M. Paleologue's diary remains a priceless primary source for anyone who wishes to study the sunken Atlantis of Tsarist Russia. Among the most fascinating entries, however, describes Paleologue's audience with Tsar Nicholas during the fall of 1914. The Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary had just asked to open peace negotiations through neutral channels. As Paleologue's diary reveals, the Tsar and his Foreign Minister, Count Sergei Sazonov, had no desire to accept. 

In his recent book, "The Russian Origins of the First World War," historian Sean McMeekin has written that M. Paleologue has provided, "a precious glimpse into what Russia's 'Little Father' thought his peasant children were fighting, bleeding, and dying for." Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomon Empire were to be dismantled into smaller states -- almost certainly under Russian political and cultural influence. The Hapsburgs were to be shorn, not only of their Empire, but of Vienna itself and reduced to ruling only Salzburg and Tyrol. The Prussian Hohenzollerns were to be dethroned as Kaisers of the German Empire, which the Tsar intended to divide again into minuscule Princely States. Constantinople was to be under Russian rule and Turkey was to be reduced to the province surrounding Ankara. 

When reading M. Paleologue's description of this audience, I was shocked by the similarity between the hubristic statements of the Last Tsar and those of Napoleon Bonaparte. Tragically, the Tsar and his family would pay with their lives for his decision to commit his country to a war for which the Russian military had neither the supplies or the training to fight. Even more tragically, so would millions of others. For if Russia had not entered the Great War, there would have been no October Revolution, Red Terror, or Stalinist Purges. Therefore, I must say, with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "I feel sorry for Russia."

From, "An Ambassador's Memoirs," Volume I.

Saturday, November 21, 1914

This morning Sazonov said to me: "The Emperor will receive you at four o'clock. Officially he has nothing to say; but he wants to talk to you frankly and without restraint. I warn you your audience will be a long one.

At three o'clock I left in a special train for Tsarskoïe-Selo. Snow was falling heavily. Under the wan light from the sky the great plain in which Petrograd is set lay pale, misty and drab. It made me feel gloomy with its reminder of the plains of Poland where at this very moment thousands of men are dying and thousands others suffer the tortures of wounds.

Although my audience was a private one I had to put on my full-dress uniform, as is fitting for a meeting with the Tsar, Autocrat of all the Russias. The Director of Ceremonies, Evreinov, went with me. He also was a symphony in gold braid.

From Tsarskoïe-Selo station to Alexander Palace is a short distance, less than a verst. In the open space before one reaches the park a little church, mediæval in style, raises its pretty cupola above the snow; it is the Feodorovsky Sobor, one of the Empress's favourite resorts for private devotion.

Alexander Palace showed me its most intimate side, for ceremonial was reduced to a minimum. My escort consisted only of Evreinov, a household officer in undress uniform and a footman in his picturesque (Tsaritsa Elizabeth) dress with the hat adorned with long red, black and yellow plumes. I was taken through the audience rooms, then the Empress's private drawing-room, down a long corridor leading to the private apartments of the sovereigns in which I passed a servant in very plain livery who was carrying a tea tray. Further on was the foot of a little private staircase leading to the rooms of the imperial children. A lady's maid flitted away from the landing above. The last room at the end of the corridor is occupied by Prince Mestschersky, personal aide-de-camp. I waited there barely a minute. The gaily and weirdly bedecked Ethiopian who mounted guard outside His Majesty's study opened the door almost at once.

The Emperor received me with that gracious and somewhat shy kindness which is all his own.

The room in which he received me is small and has only one window. The furniture is plain and comfortable there are plain leather chairs, a sofa covered with a Persian rug, a bureau and shelves arranged with meticulous care, a table spread with maps and a low book case with photographs, busts and family souvenirs on the top shelf.

As usual the Emperor hesitated over his preliminary remarks, which are kind personal enquiries and attentions, but soon he became more at his ease:

"Let's make ourselves at home and be comfortable first, as I shall keep you some time. Have this chair. . . . We'll put this little table between us: that's better. Here are the cigarettes: Turkish. I've no business to smoke them as they were given to me by a fresh enemy, the Sultan. But they're extremely nice and, anyhow, I haven't any others. Let me have my maps. . . . And now we can talk."

He lit his cigarette, offered me a light and went straight to the heart of the subject:

"Great things have happened in the three months since I saw you last. The splendid French army and my dear army have already given such proof of valour that victory can't fail us now. . . . Don't think I'm under any illusion as to the trials and sacrifices the war still has in store for us; but so far we have a right, and even a duty, to consider together what we should have to do if Austria or Germany sued for peace. You must observe that it would unquestionably be in Germany's interest to treat for peace while her military power is still formidable. But isn't Austria very exhausted already? Well, what should we do if Germany or Austria asked for peace?"

"The first question," I said, " is to consider whether peace can be negotiated if we are not forced to dictate it to our enemies. . . . However moderate we may be we shall obviously have to insist on guarantees and reparations from the Central Powers, demands they will not accept before they are at our mercy."

"That's my own view. We must dictate the peace and I am determined to continue the war until the Central Powers are destroyed. But I regard it as essential that the terms of the peace should be discussed by us three, France, England and Russia-and by us three alone. No Congress or mediation for me! So when the time comes we shall impose our will upon Germany and Austria."

"What is your general idea of the terms of peace, Sire?"

After a moment's consideration the Emperor resumed:

"What we must keep before us as our first object is the destruction of German militarism, the end of the nightmare from which Germany has made us suffer for more than forty years. We must make it impossible for the German people even to think of revenge. If we let ourselves be swayed by sentiment there will be a fresh war within a very short time. . . . As for the precise terms of peace I must tell you at once that I accept here and now any conditions France and England think it their duty to put forward in their own interest."

"I thank Your Majesty for that intimation; I am certain that the Government of the Republic in turn will meet the wishes of the imperial Government in the most sympathetic spirit."

"What you say encourages me to tell you all I think. But I m only giving you my own view, as I don't like to open questions of this kind without consulting my ministers and generals." 

He drew his chair close to mine, spread a map of Europe on the table between us, lit another cigarette and continued in an even more intimate and familiar tone: "This is more or less my view of the results Russia is entitled to expect from the war, results failing which my people will not understand the sacrifices I have require of them. . . . In East Prussia Germany must accept a rectification of the frontier. My General Staff would like this rectification to be extended to the mouths of the Vistula. That seems to me excessive; I'll look into the question. Posen and possibly a portion of Silesia will be indispensable to the reconstitution of Poland. Galicia and the western half of the Bukovina will enable Russia to obtain her natural frontier, the Carpathians. . . . In Asia Minor I shall have to consider the question of the Armenians of course; I certainly could not let them return to the Turkish yoke. Ought I to annex Armenia? I shall only do so if the Armenians expressly ask me to. Otherwise I shall establish an autonomous regime for them. Lastly, I shall be compelled to secure my Empire a free passage through the Straits."

As he stopped at these words I pressed him to enlighten me further. He continued:

"I am far from having made up my mind. The matter is of such grave importance. But there are two conclusion to which I am always being brought back; first, that the Turks must be expelled from Europe; secondly, that Constantinople must in future be neutral, with an international regime. I need hardly say that the Mohammedans should receive all necessary guarantees that sanctuaries and tombs will be respected. Western Thrace to the Enos-Midia line should be given to Bulgaria. The rest, from that line to the shores of the Straits but excluding the environs of Constantinople, would be assigned Russia."

"So if I have understood you correctly, the Turks will be confined to Asia---as in the days of the first Osmanlis--- and have Angora or Koniah for their capital. The Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmora and the Dardanelles will thus form the western frontier of Turkey."

"Exactly."

"Your Majesty will forgive me for interrupting again to remind you that in Syria and Palestine France has a precious heritage of historical memories and moral and material interests. May I assume that Your Majesty would acquiesce in any measures the Government of the Republic might think fit to take to safeguard that inheritance?"

"Certainly!"

Then he spread out a map of the Balkans and indicated broadly his view of the territorial changes we should desire:

"Serbia should annex Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia and Northern Albania. Greece should have southern Albania with the exception of Valona, which must be assigned to Italy. If Bulgaria behaves properly she should receive compensation in Macedonia from Serbia."

He carefully folded up the map of the Balkans and as carefully returned it to its exact place on his table. Then crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair he fixed his eyes on the ceiling and asked in a dreamy voice:

"What about Austria-Hungary? What's to become of her? "

"If the victories of your armies develop beyond the Carpathians and Italy and Rumania enter the field Austria-Hungary will hardly survive the territorial sacrifices the Emperor Francis Joseph will be obliged to accept. When the Austro-Hungarian partnership has gone bankrupt I imagine the partners won't wish to go on working together, at any rate on the same terms."

"I think so too. . . . When Hungary loses Transylvania she'll have some difficulty in keeping the Croats under her sway. Bohemia will demand its autonomy at the least and Austria will thus find herself reduced to her ancient hereditary states, German Tyrol and the district of Salzburg."

Hereupon he lapsed into silence for a moment, his brows contracted and his eyes half closed as if he were repeating to himself what he was about to tell me. Then he cast a glance at the portrait of his father on the wall behind me and continued:

"But it is primarily in Germany that the great changes will take place. As I have said, Russia will annex the former Polish territories and part of East Prussia. France will certainly recover Alsace-Lorraine and possibly obtain the Rhine Provinces as well. Belgium should receive a substantial accession of territory in the region of Aix-la-Chapelle; she thoroughly deserves it! As for or the German Colonies, France and England will divide them as they think fit. Further, I should like Schleswig, including the Kiel Canal zone, to be restored to Denmark. . . . And Hanover? Wouldn't it be wise to revive Hanover? By setting up a small independent state between Prussia and Holland we should do much towards putting the future peace on a solid basis. After all, it is that which must guide our deliberations and actions. Our work cannot be justified before God and History unless it is inspired by a great moral idea and the determination to secure the peace of the world for a very long time to come."

As he uttered these last words he sat up in his chair his voice quivered a little under the influence of a solemn religious emotion. In his eyes shone a strange light. His conscience and his faith were visibly at work. But neither in his attitude nor his expression was there a suggestion of pose: nothing but perfect simplicity.

"Doesn't it mean the end of the German Empire?" I said.

He replied in firm tones:

"Germany can adopt any organization she likes, but the imperial dignity cannot be allowed to remain in the House of Hohenzollern. Prussia must return to the status of a kingdom only. . . . Isn't that your opinion also, Ambassador?"

"The German Empire, as conceived, founded and governed by the Hohenzollerns, is so obviously directed against the French nation that I shall certainly not attempt its defence. France would have a great guarantee if all the powers of the German world ceased to be in the hands of Prussia. . . ."

Our talk had already lasted more than an hour. After a few moments of reflection the Emperor remarked, as if he had suddenly remembered something:

"We mustn't think merely of the immediate results of the war: we must consider the remoter future, too. . . . I attach the very greatest importance to the maintenance of our alliance. The work we have set out to do and which has already cost us such efforts and sacrifices will be permanent only if we remain united. As we know we are striving for the peace of the world it is essential that our work should be permanent."

As he delivered himself of this finale, an obvious and necessary finale, to our conversation, I could see in his eyes the same strange, mystic light I had observed a few minutes earlier. His ancestor, Alexander I, must have worn this fervent and inspired expression when he preached to Metternich and Hardenberg about the Holy Alliance of kings against peoples. Yet in Madame von Krüdener's friend there was a certain theatrical affectation, a kind of romantic exaltation. Nicholas II, on the other hand, is sincerity itself: he endeavours to contain rather than give rein to his feelings, to conceal rather than deploy his emotions.

The Emperor rose, offered me another cigarette and remarked in the most casual and friendly way: "What glorious memories we shall share, my dear Ambassador! Do you remember? . . ."

And he reminded me of the days immediately preceding the war, that harassing week from July 25 to August 2; he recounted even the most trivial details and laid particular emphasis on the personal telegrams which had passed between the Emperor William and himself:

"He was never sincere; not for a moment! In the end he was hopelessly entangled in the net of his own perfidy and lies. . . . Have you ever been able to account for the telegram he sent me six hours after giving me his declaration of war? It's utterly impossible to explain what happened. I don't remember if I've ever told you. It was half-past one in the morning of August 2. I had just received your English colleague who had brought me a telegram from King George begging me to do everything possible to save peace. I had drafted, with Sir George Buchanan's help, the telegram with which you are familiar, which ended with an appeal for England's help in arms as the war was forced on us by Germany. The moment Buchanan had left I went to the Empress's room, as she was already in bed, to show her King George's telegram and have a cup of tea with her before retiring myself. I stayed with her until two in the morning. Then I wanted to have a bath, as I was very tired. I was just getting in when my servant knocked at the door saying he had a telegram for me. 'A very important telegram, very important indeed . . a telegram from His Majesty the Emperor William; I read the telegram, read it again and then repeated it aloud . . . but I couldn't understand a word. at on earth does William mean, I thought, pretending that it still depends on me whether war is averted or not! He implores me not to let my troops cross the frontier! Have I suddenly gone mad? Didn't the Minister of the Court, my trusted Fredericks, at least six hours ago bring me the declaration of war the German Ambassador had just handed to Sazonov? I returned to the Empress's room and read her William's telegram. She had to read it herself to bring herself to believe it. She said to me immediately: 'You're not going to answer it, are you? ' ' Certainly not.'

"There's no doubt that the object of this strange and farcical telegram was to shake my resolution, disconcert me and inspire me to some absurd and dishonourable step. It produced the opposite effect. As I left the Empress's room I felt that all was over for ever between me and William. I slept extremely well. When I woke, at my usual hour, I felt as if a weight had fallen from mind. My responsibility to God and my people was still enormous, but at least I knew what I had to do."

"I think, Sire, I could give a somewhat different explanation of the Emperor William's telegram."

"Really! Let me have it! "

"The Emperor William is not a man of courage

"He is not."

"He's a comedian and a braggart. He never dares to go right through with what he undertakes. He has often reminded me of an actor playing the murderer in melodrama who suddenly finds that his weapon is loaded and that he's really going to kill his victim. How often have we not seen him frightened by his own pantomime? When he ventured on his famous Tangier pronouncement, in 1905, he stopped quite suddenly in the middle of his scenario. . . . I am inclined to think that the moment he had issued his declaration of war he got frightened. He realized the formidable results of his action and wanted to throw all the responsibility on you. Perhaps, too, he clung to some fantastic hope of producing by his telegram some unexpected, inconceivable, miraculous event which would enable him to escape the consequences of his crime . . . . "

"Well, your explanation is quite in keeping with William's character."

The clock struck six.

"My word, it's late!" the Emperor said. " I'm afraid I've wearied you, but I'm glad to have had an opportunity of talking freely to you."

As he led me to the door I asked him about the fighting in Poland. "It's a great battle," he said, "and raging with the greatest fury. The Germans are making frantic efforts to break our line; they won't succeed and they can't remain long in their present positions. So I hope that before long we shall resume our advance."

"General de Laguiche wrote to me recently that the Grand Duke Nicholas still keeps a march on Berlin as his one and only objective."

"Yes, I don't yet know where we shall be able to get through. Between the Carpathians and the Oder, perhaps? Or between Breslau and Posen? Or north of Posen. It depends a good deal on the fighting now in progress around Lodz and in the neighbourhood of Cracow. But Berlin is certainly our sole objective. The fighting is equally violent on your side. This furious Yser battle is going in your favour. Your marines have covered themselves with glory. It's a serious reverse for the Germans, nearly as serious as their defeat on the Marne. . . . Well, good-bye, my dear Ambassador! Once more, I'm very glad to have been able to talk so freely with you! "

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July 17th, 2014Memory Eternal, Stratford Caldecottby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

I just received word that Stratford Caldecott, a good friend to many of us here at StAR, has fallen asleep in the Lord. There will be many more good words and articles written about this amazing man. He was a true man of faith, a lover of theology and comic books, and a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. Please join us prayer for him and for his dear family. 

Christ our eternal King and God, You have destroyed death and the devil by Your Cross and have restored man to life by Your Resurrection; give rest, Lord, to the soul of Your servant, Stratford Caldecott,who has fallen asleep, in Your Kingdom, where there is no pain, sorrow or suffering. In Your goodness and love for all men, pardon all the sins he has committed in thought word or deed, for there is no man or woman who lives and sins not, You only are without sin. 

For You are the Resurrection, the Life, and Repose of Your servant Stratford, departed this life, O Christ our God; and to You do we send up glory with Your Eternal Father and Your All-holy, Good and Life-creating Spirit; both now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen

 

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July 17th, 2014To Live is To Loveby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

I have been hired to write a short biographical drama on the life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

And although I believe she had a strong influence upon me (behind the scenes) at the Chesterton Conference in Emmitsburg, Maryland four years ago, it has taken her a while to grow upon me.  But the more I read of her, the more I like her.  She was, among other things, a woman who valued Friendship most highly among all earthly blessings.

And this insight of hers in particular strikes me.  She wrote it as a note to herself on the back flyleaf of a book she was reading, The Following of Christ.

To live according to the Spirit, is to love according to the Spirit.  To live according to the flesh, is to love according to the flesh.  Love is the life of the soul - as the soul is the life of the body ... To live according to the Spirit is to act, to speak, to think in the manner the Spirit of God requires of us ... To live then according to the Spirit is to do what faith, hope, and charity teach - either in spiritual or temporal things.


Let me unpack this a bit for you.

First, she is playing around with Flesh vs. Spirit, which is not body vs. spirit, but the ways of the selfish  soul vs. the ways of the enlightened soul.  She is using "flesh" here at St. Paul does (Greek: sarx), meaning all that mean, nasty self-centered lust for power that emanates from that narcissistic little petty tyrant that is inside of every fallen human being; while Spirit means Holy Spirit, the work of God within you.

And St. Elizabeth compares the unfolding of love lived according to either principle.  Compare what St. Paul tells us in Galatians (my emphasis and commentary) ...

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh ... The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
[Clearly, Paul is not using the word "flesh" to talk only about bodily urges, for "idolatry", "hatred", "jealousy", "ambition", etc. are spiritual things - but darkly spiritual things.  The acts of the flesh are the things we do when we are motivated by nothing beyond our basest desires - whether those desires are physical or spiritual.  However ...]
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:14-22)


And Mother Seton points out that one can live according to the selfish old man within or, or one can live according to the redeemed new man within; that is, according to the flesh or according to the Spirit.

 But to live is to love.  "Love is the life of the soul - as the soul is the life of the body".  What a great insight!

***

So what is the difference between loving according to the flesh - the sarx - and loving according to the Spirit?

I think we can see the difference in something as simple as Friendship.

***

My son Colin, who's a film buff, insisted that I watch the movie The Master the other night.  It's a Paul Thomas Anderson film that's kind of about a Scientology type cult, but is really about love and friendship.



The main character, Freddie Quell (played with amazing skill by Joaquin Phoenix) is a psychologically disturbed drifter whose life is Disconnected.  Without any real relationships in his life, he floats from job to job and from psychotic episode to psychotic episode, until he is befriended by the Cult Leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman - and theirs is indeed a friendship, despite the fact that they both make a habit of using other people.

"Use is the opposite of love," as St. John Paul used to say.  And, although Freddie Quell in The Master is willing to use, by means of sex, any woman who moves (or who doesn't move), he harbors one true love - a girl whose innocence he would never dream of offending.  And The Master himself, though he's making a career out of using others in a way that is typical of the Great American Scam Artist, is drawn to Freddie with a simple kind of loyalty.

The climactic scene of the movie (spoiler here) is when The Master describes his love by singing a romantic song to Freddie - but somehow it's far from a homosexual moment.  Freddie breaks down in tears, not so much because he has the sense that The Master is trying to seduce him as he seduces everyone else, but because the song somehow communicates a real love between the two that has nothing to do with romance, homosexual or otherwise.  Or at least that's how I saw it, though the scene (and the whole movie) is very hard to pin down.

At any rate, the opposite of love is not hatred.  The opposite of love is use.

***

Sometimes friendships die when one or the other party moves on to other interests, when the air goes out of the tire and nothing can be done to patch it and inflate it back up.

But quite often, it seems, friendships die when one party betrays the other, or when an undercurrent of use and even abuse rises to the surface.

When we are used by others to fulfill their selfish needs - which can include sex, attention, affection, money - when this happens and we wise up to it we feel incredibly, terribly, horribly abused, as well we should.

We feel victimized by someone who was loving according to the flesh, and not according to the Spirit.

***

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton gave her life to educating young women at a time in America when this was simply not being done - at least not being done for women outside of a wealthy social class.  But Mother Seton took in the poor, the destitute, the desperate; she founded an order that helped orphans, that ministered to the needs of the simple common people, of the poorest of the poor.

Hers was a life lived - and loved - according to the Spirit, and it therefore bore the fruits of the Spirit (as St. Paul describes above).

If all of us began to love in that way, our friendships would flourish, and we would find that instead of behaving with "knavish imbecility" (as our bishops do), the Church would revive and the world would begin to heal.  Suffering would certainly be our lot, as to love is to suffer - but this is, after all, our great and only call.



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July 16th, 2014The Gleam in the Eyeby Pavel Chichikov

A few days ago I clicked on a radio interview concerning Siegfried Sassoon, the English poet who wrote so powerfully about his combat experiences in World War One. The specific subject was a poem called Atrocities, which was edited before publication to remove some of the most blunt and brutal lines. It was, after all, war time. Here is a reading of the poem and the interview:

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-28243999  

As the BBC writes: [The original] “version was heavily censored by publishers, with euphemisms such as 'How did you do them in?' replacing 'How did you kill them?', and other lines removed altogether.”

The subject is the slaughter of prisoners.

The story of Sassoon’s poem reminded me of an experience of an uncle of mine who fought in another war, in another time, in a different part of the world.

When I was a small child, when he came home from this “different” war, I distinctly remember him saying that in that war, in that campaign, they took no prisoners because they were short of rations and would have had to share them.

And then, with a gleam in his eye that I have never forgotten, he told us that the enemy were killed with knives. I don’t recall exactly why this was so, but I remember the gleam.

My uncle was rather a docile sort who was known for meekly taking orders from his strong-willed wife. People always described him as good natured and a hard worker, if not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

God bless his soul, he passed on some years ago. And he was good natured.  I don’t recall him ever behaving aggressively towards anyone, or even raising his voice.

I really believe that if he had never been a combat soldier that gleam would never have arisen in his eyes.

What then had happened to him during those years of war? Was it fear, hardship, semi-starvation, the pressure of kill or be killed combat? Of course. But it was something else, I believe: The innate ferocity of Cain, a latent or if you will original streak of bloody murder in the human soul.

In some of us it never comes out, even in murderous circumstances, and in others the setting ignites the gleam in the eye.

We are not through with that gleam yet. Read the news today, and prove it to yourself.  Pray for peace.

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July 16th, 2014Famous Film Stars and the Faithby Joseph Pearce

I've received an e-mail from Spain suggesting that I write a book about film actors and directors who are Catholics. Here's my reply:

I think your idea for a book about Catholic actors and film directors is excellent. Unfortunately, as a British literary scholar, I know very little about American films. There are, however, two new books that overlap with your suggestion. The first is Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line by Karen Edmisten (Our Sunday Vistor, 2013), which focuses on several famous film stars and directors and which is reviewed in the latest issue of the St. Austin Review; the second is The Mississippi Flows into the Tiber by John Beaumont, a comprehensive study of American converts to Catholicism: 

http://www.culturewars.com/Reviews/MississippiReviews.htm

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July 14th, 2014Hilaire Belloc on EWTN?by Joseph Pearce

No, he has not been reconstructed through computer generated images.  Actually it is Scott Bloch of the Belloc Society on EWTN's "The Journey Home" this evening. I understand from Scott that a good portion of the program is dedicated to his conversion story (from Hollywood kid to John Senior godson) but that a surprising portion of the show is dedicated to Belloc because the host, Marcus Grodi, is quite the Belloc fan. 

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July 14th, 2014Futility Conqueredby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



Today's Mass Readings were on a similar theme, a theme I've written about in the past, a theme that is close to my heart.

The first reading was a powerful passage from Isaiah ...

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.  (Is. 55:10-11)


I have always taken consolation from this, as it has so often seemed that much of my effort in life, with friends, and with the Theater of the Word Incorporated has been for naught.  When your neighboring parish raises and spends $300,000 to repave their parking lot, but won't take a free show for the spiritual health of their parishioners, it's a tad disheartening.  When parishes in Massachusetts book several performances of our pro-life show, but then cancel for fear that we might disturb the pro-abortion Kennedy Catholics in the audience, it's a tad disheartening.  When the whole town shows up and responds enthusiastically to a performance in the middle of nowhere, but then the priest tells you he won't be able to book you again for "maybe another five years", it's a tad disheartening.  (My response, "Just call me in ten years and book two shows.")

Indeed, the priest at Mass today said in his homily ...

When I was a student, I was given an assignment.  Write a philosophical synthesis that answers all the major problems in philosophy.  Of course this is impossible to do.  It's a doomed enterprise.  
But how many of us are involved in doomed enterprises?  Are there any parents here today?  How many of you have striven for years to raise perfect, happy, well-behaved children, only to find out that such a goal is impossible to achieve?
But we keep trying all the same ...  


In fact the earthly ministry of Jesus seemed to be an utterly doomed enterprise - especially the way it ended.

But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him.  We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.  (Luke 24:20-21)


... but He wasn't.  At least not in the way they expected.

The cross, then, is the ultimate symbol for futility.  (And the conquest of futility.  More on that in a minute.)

And in our second Mass reading today, St. Paul speaks about futility ...

for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Rom. 8:20-21)


Paul here is talking not just about frustrations in our families or careers; not just about doomed enterprises or impossible goals; he's talking about the universe itself.  Everything about us is "subject to futility", including death and entropy.  There is a growing disorder and confusion in human nature and in physical nature.

And yet ...

We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:22-23)


Futility, then, is not the order of the day.  Not any more.  All of creation groans in travail, but those are labor pains, pains of the first fruits of a new creation, for even death itself has been overcome, and God's word will not return to Him "void".

"Vanity!  Vanity!  All is vanity!" says the Preacher (Eccl. 1:2), which is to say "All is meaningless!  All is emptiness!  All is futility!"

We live in a world where people actually believe that life is meaningless, empty, futile - and is filled only by the arbitrary meaning we throw upon it (though, if you notice, that meaning always seems to spring from our groins).  This is the religion of the 21st Century - the Cult of Sterility.  People love "free contraception" and "gay marriage" and all forms of sodomy and perversion because these things are deliberately futile.  They are rote sacrifices made by the casteratti, the self-made eunuchs of the smart set - sacrifices made to their God of Nothingness and Pointlessness, the idol of the Cult of the Absurd.

***

However ... our Gospel reading is the Parable of the Sower (Mat. 13:1-23), in which Our Lord shows us that indeed while much of what we do will be futile and pointless, not all of it will.  For there remains in all creation not merely the principle of decay and death, but from that very thing (mysteriously) emerges, supernaturally, a new life.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)
Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (Mark 4:27


And it is important to note that we are not obligated to cultivate a field of unresponsive soil.  We are to "shake the dust off of our feet" and move on when we are rejected.  (Mat. 10:14)  Shake the dust off your feet, don't bang your head against the wall.  Part of the Stewardship of Love is prudential investment of time, treasure and talent - setting boundaries and sticking to them, having a backbone, unlike so many artists and creative types who give heedlessly and are taken advantage of because of that.

This is because life is not futile, the word will not return to Him void, and the nature of soil is fertility.  We say amen to the Spirit in our hearts, and He bears forth His fruit by virtue of our fiat.  

And all creation groans for us to bring forth this Kingdom by accepting His seed and saying yes.


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July 14th, 2014When People Become Things, God Becomes a Thingby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has interviewed Annie Lobert, the founder of Hookers for Jesus, an organization that helps women break free of the sex industry.


Lobert's point is that prostitution is simply the extension of the basic principle of a radically capitalist culture: everything can be bought and sold, including people, including the most intimate parts of a person's body, including the most intimate parts of a person's soul.  Lobert is a former hooker, who has managed to discover that sex exists only in a much larger and more profound context (my emphasis) ...

“I love sex now, because I’m with my husband. But does it fulfill me? No. My husband’s relationship with me does, his care for me, his concern,” Annie says. Sex is a part of all that, she adds, but only when it’s sex that can’t be dislocated and commodified.

And while I'd guess that most of you out there have had nothing to do with the sex industry (beyond pornography, which victimizes addicts every day), all of us can understand what it feels like to be made a thing.

Taking the human being out of context, out of the larger mystery that he is; removing him from the purpose for which he is made, is common.  Employers do it, selfish drivers who cut off other drivers do it, fair weather friends do it.

And (pay attention) anything we do to another person is something we're willing to do to God.  We commodify God; we buy Him and sell Him, for thirty pieces of silver or more if we can get it.  We don't want the great mystery, power and awe of God, we want a god-thing that we can put in our back pocket, a god-club we can hit others with, a god-doll that we can play with, a god-mirror on the wall that tells us that we're the fairest of them all.

We use God and we use others, and we ourselves are used and abused in return.

Love breaks free of this.  And the sign of Love is an ugly public humiliation, a man on a cross, bleeding and dying for our sake.

The world buys and sells.  The world objectifies.  The world is filled with false friends, flattering and betraying.  The world is filled with hookers, pimps and johns.

But take heart.  For the crucified one tells us, "I have overcome the world."  (John 16:33)




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July 12th, 2014About Conventionsby Dena Hunt

convention |kənˈvenCHən|

noun

1 a way in which something is usually done, esp. within a particular area or activity:

• behavior that is considered acceptable or polite to most members of a society:

Thus quoth my handy Mac dictionary app. Doesn’t sound too important, does it? Doesn’t sound like something that would cause the downfall of the entire social structure if it were violated. We treat convention casually at best; at worst, we engage in the juvenile practice of breaking conventions, just for the adolescent thrill of it; we cheer others when they behave in an anti-conventional manner, and boast of it when we do it ourselves.

But I recall an old black and white movie in which Ethel Barrymore (I think it was) said to a young Barbara Stanwyck, “You see, my dear, there’s a reason for conventions; a convention may be the result of a thousand years of experience.” While that may not be true of all conventions, there are occasions when it is best to obey first and understand later, and that’s usually true of conventions. Here’s an example:

I have two friends who are in the middle of a bitter divorce. The worst part of it is that their four beautiful children are the battleground--but that’s always the way it is, isn’t it? While divorcing parents are both screaming about their victimization, the real victims are always the children. She is a member of a profession that typically earns a six-figure income; he is a liberal arts type, who may be lucky to find a low-paying teaching position. So, in the beginning, before there were children, they agreed: She’d bring home the paycheck; he’d be a stay-at-home dad and homeschool the children. They would ignore convention and reverse parenting roles. And so it was. Four children and many years later, now approaching middle-age (and all that entails), they’re in a bitter divorce battle.

She claims she is de-feminized, stripped of her sexuality, denied her conjugal rights, and emotionally abused by her husband’s neglect of her. She leaves him and the children and sues for divorce. He doesn’t deny her complaint against him but claims, exactly like a stay-at-home wife who’s been abandoned by a philandering husband, that she should pay alimony and support him and the children in the lifestyle to which they’re accustomed until all the children reach majority (about 10 years or more). It’s painful but perhaps necessary to include: She has become increasingly unattractive, physically and temperamentally. He has become so self-righteous one suspects the saints themselves would not pass his reflexively critical condemnation.

Defying convention didn’t work. You can either obey first and understand later, or you can disobey first, and refuse to understand later.

A woman may feel “feminine” when a man is attracted to her, but that is not the source or cause of her femininity. It’s only a consequence of it. The source is the as-yet unexpressed maternal instinct. Squelch that, and the attraction of men will vanish. And there is something in men that is inspired to protect and defend, that wants to stand between his beloved and the world. That’s the fatherhood that lies deep within and yearns to be expressed. Squelch that and manhood is lost. You can play around with it all you like, but sexuality is the expression of motherhood and fatherhood. Sing songs to it, write poems about it, and create all kinds of stuff and nonsense about it, but it is what it is. And it’s in acknowledging that reality that conventional roles came to be. Have whatever superior ideas (or tantrums) you want, it doesn’t change anything, and all you wind up doing is destroying the children.

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July 10th, 2014What Britain Ain’tby Joseph Pearce

My latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative is entitled "What Makes Britain 'Great' and England Greater". The reason for the slang in the title that I've chosen for this post will become clear upon reading the article. Here's the link:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/07/makes-britain-great-england-greater.html

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July 10th, 2014Trivia Masquerading as Cultureby Joseph Pearce

I've just received what must be one of the most bizarre requests that I've ever received. I've been contacted by a journalist working on what he described as "a cultural quiz show for Spanish Television".

I quote from his e-mail:

My work consists in writing the questions and checking if they are correct and well formulated, in order to be as precise as possible and make sure we don’t spread wrong information to our contestants and our audience. Sometimes, to do this work, I need to contact to some experts, such as you, in this case.

The question I am now verifying is: 

Who admitted in public wearing women's underwear?

A) Oscar Wilde

B) Adolf Hitler

C) Cary Grant

D) Francois Miterrand

E) Isaac Newton

F) Napoleon Bonaparte

G) Julius Caesar

We think the true answer is C) Cary Grant and the others are false.

I would be interested in confirm that A) Oscar Wilde is a false answer.

I would appreciate your help very much to check this information, please.

Best Regards,

I replied that I was happy to confirm that Wilde never confessed to wearing women's underwear in public or anywhere else! The sad thing is that this triteness and trivia, the dregs and dross of a decaying society, passes as "culture". Wilde famously observed, via Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's Fan, that "we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars". The representatives of today's so-called "culture" are happy to wallow in the gutter and the only "stars" they are interested in looking at are wallowing in the gutter with them.  

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July 6th, 2014Book Burning: Is E-Brother Bigger than Big Brother?by Joseph Pearce

My wife has drawn my attention to this well-written and thought-provoking article about the danger of book burning, book banning and book censorship in the internet age. If you thought that Orwell's Big Brother was frightening, you ain't seen nothing yet ...

http://awordplease.org/2014/07/03/are-your-books-on-fire/

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July 5th, 2014How “Frozen” Should Have Endedby Brendan D. King

Whether or not the Disney film "Frozen" is acceptable for Christian families has caused a great deal of controversy, some of which has even spilled over onto The Ink Desk. For this reason, I have decided to give both sides the opportunity to laugh at "Frozen." The following video is therefore highly recommended.

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=j1gE4kF0-k4

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July 4th, 2014Ich hatt’ einen Kameradenby Brendan D. King

In keeping with the recent upsurge of interest in the Great War, I have decided to post the following video, which memorializes the German soldiers who fell under the Kaiser's banner. It consists of the song, "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden," which dates from the Napoleonic Wars and which is still played at the memorials for German soldiers. For those who are unable to read German, the text explains the patriotic enthusiasm which filled Germany in the summer of 1914 and how every volunteer expected to be home before Christmas. The story of their idealism and disillusionment is illustrated by period photographs and footage from the film, "All Quiet on the Western Front." May the sacrifice off all who fell in the Great War never be forgotten!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVmZjRmyPso&list=PL06BE2495AE73FFE0&index=1

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July 3rd, 2014An Englishman Ponders the Fourth of Julyby Joseph Pearce

So what does an Englishman who has become an American citizen really think about the Fourth of July? I ponder the question at some length in my latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative: 

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/07/become-an-american-ponders.html

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July 3rd, 2014A True Treasureby Joseph Pearce

My good friend, William Fahey, President of Thomas More College in New Hampshire, has written a simply superb article about the timeless value of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island: 

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/robert-louis-stevenson-treasure-island

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

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

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

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

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

"Whatever happens, we have got

The Maxim gun, and they have not."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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July 2nd, 2014Belloc in Parliamentby Joseph Pearce

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

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

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

http://www.catholicheritagetours.com/acfc

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

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

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


My response:

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

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

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July 1st, 2014To Breathe as Oneby Joseph Pearce

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

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

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

"If."
By Rudyard Kipling.

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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June 29th, 2014In Memoriamby Brendan D. King

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://magyarnews.org/news.php?viewStory=1416

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

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June 27th, 2014Profiling Othelloby Brendan D. King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

University Press, 1969. Pages 240-241.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shakespeare, the hypocrite passes sentence with vainglorious severity --

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

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

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

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

there is in this character!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

but spending his life with young scape graces and constantly subjected

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

evasiveness and mocking boldness. By habit and calculation he is

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

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

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

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

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

danger.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

how many scenes lost to the brush of Shakespeare!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://erinmccolecupp.com/2014/06/25/wwrw-the-lions-heart-by-dena-hunt/

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

***

My question is this.

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

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

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

***


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

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





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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it occurred to me.

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

***

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

 

 

 

 


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June 22nd, 2014More On Distibutismby Joseph Pearce

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

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

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

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


Another interview that I gave during my recent visit to Spain has now been published. In this interview, given in Barcelona and published in two parts in Aleteia, I discuss the persecution of Catholics in England during the so-called English "Reformation" and a host of the key figures in the Catholic cultural revival, including Newman, Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton and Greene. I'm supplying the link for Spanish speakers or for those who can bear the pidgin English version in instant translation:
 
 http://www.aleteia.org/es/religion/entrevistas/pearce-cuando-en-gran-bretana-los-catolicos-eran-condenados-a-muerte-6388315246821376
http://www.aleteia.org/es/religion/entrevistas/moro-tolkien-lewis-newman-chesterton-guinness-y-greene-en-breve-5337489757700096
 
There is also a Portuguese version: http://www.aleteia.org/pt/estilo-de-vida/artigo/conversao-de-joseph-pearce-5788815591473152

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Here's my latest article for the American Conservative.

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/06/neglected-genius-hilaire-belloc.html

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

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

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/from-racial-hatred-to-rational-love/

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

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


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


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

Here's Ali's painting enlarged.


What a beautiful, indescribable, captivating work!

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

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

***

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

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June 18th, 2014When Baseball Meets Cricketby Joseph Pearce

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKY5fmDGVLs

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

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

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

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



Let's take a few examples.


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

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

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

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


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

And we die a little every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Stalinism.
Your collective farm has two pigs. One of them looks just like Nikita
Khrushchev.

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

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

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

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


http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/06/what-is-distributism.html

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

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Mv7CE1XlZk

 

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What are your thoughts on the subject?