Sunday, January 25, 2015

Another Flurry

While the East Coast gets a blizzard, today I set off a "flurry" of posts, about which the brave Anonymous said ...
In your flurry of posts today your self-righteousness is really showing itself.
... and of course he or she is right.  I mean, how do you write about sin and Faith when you happen to be a major sinner of marginal faith?

I once had a regular blog reader who called herself Beatrice from Amarillo.  She somehow managed to offend me mightily, and my pride was sorely wounded - for a long time.  But finally, my self-righteousness has abated and I realize that she was right and I was wrong and the anger I felt should have been directed entirely toward myself.  So, Beatrice, if you're out there - I'm sorry; you were far more right than I was, and far more courageous to stand up for the truth, which I, in my self-righteousness and wounded pride, did not want to admit, Sub-Catholic that I am.

And my male readers who are married know that we experience this a lot.  If we've been blessed enough to marry a woman who really loves us, and who loves us enough to be honest with us ... well, we're constantly getting our pride bruised, because she's constantly noticing - and pointing out - how wrong we usually are.

It's that "stirring the oatmeal love", the love that shows itself in small things and hidden ways, the love of the domestic Church, the family, that humbles us.

Anyway, Anonymous has more of a point than he or she realizes.

***

Oh, and by the way, Dana Webster has asked about Peter Kreeft.  Dana, here we are performing my adaptation of his play Socrates Meets Jesus, at which Dr. Kreeft was present ...






Some Observations


  • Be grateful for temptations, for each temptation is an opportunity to resist, without anyone knowing that you’re tempted or resisting, and thereby is an opportunity to offer a great quiet sacrifice to God, which He knows and loves at that moment and for all time: quietly to resist a temptation is a very heightened form of prayer.  To resist a temptation is to enter into an immediate intimacy with God.  Yes, it hurts to resist, but the next time you're tempted, think of the great act of love you're offering your creator every time you do so.

  • Dissent has no place in Communion.  As St. Peter writes, "Finally, be ye all of one mind" (1 Pet. 3:8).  And as St. Paul writes, "for we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16).  We are unified if we share in His mind, disunited if we stubbornly persist in our own private schemes and Unrealities.

  • You cannot love without understanding.  Thus, our desire to feel a kind of sentimental "love" for God means very little if we do not, with our minds, seek to understand Him, to know Him ... to "have the mind of Christ".  The spiritual life includes the head and the heart.

  • By the same token, we should not blind ourselves to the flaws of those we love.  Since to love entails knowing and understanding, with the head and with the heart, we do not love well or wisely if we gloss over the reality of the person we love.  This can be hard, especially when we love people who are supremely self-centered and who don't love us back.

  • "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth," says St. Paul (Col. 3:2).  This implies that we have some control over our affections.  We might not be able to stir up affection or to quench it outright, but we can focus it.  This is called the Stewardship of Love.

  • "While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them." (John 12:36)  Why does Jesus shine this light and then hide Himself?  He did it for a worldly reason, which was to protect Himself from the mob.  But He also did it as a sign.  And the sign means this: sometimes the light is hidden, and we search for it in gloomy darkness.  Following the light is the thread that we cling to, to find our way out of the maze, away from the terrible Minotaur that threatens to engulf us.  How little we realize the importance of those hidden moments of following that hidden light - which includes resisting temptation in hidden ways (see above).


The Stewardship of Love

From a post I wrote a few years ago ...

***

We had to go to the 7:00 am Sunday Mass in this small town in Kansas, for we had to make it all the way back to St. Louis for a Sunday evening performance that same night.  I had hoped there would be few people and no music - there often isn't at the early Sunday Mass in most parishes.  But the church was Standing Room Only and Haugen-Haas-Schutte was being played (badly) and sung (weakly) and ruining any chance at all for prayer or solemn worship.  The priest, looking resplendent in his Ordinary Green, was ad-libbing just enough of the new translation of the Liturgy to make it annoying.

Then his homily began.  He gave a one sentence nod to the Gospel, summarizing what it was about.  Then he beamed, "Today we're going to celebrate STEWARDSHIP SUNDAY!  There are financial reports at the end of each pew.  You may share them and follow along as I read the entire thing to you and complain about how much more you need to give of your TIME, TALENT AND TREASURE!"

Now, I celebrate many things.

I celebrate Christmas, New Year's, Easter, Thanksgiving - but I do NOT celebrate "Stewardship Sunday."

But this brings me to a point, the main point of six weeks of spiritual struggle that have transpired inside my sinful little breast, culminating in a revelation of sorts that I now hope to share with you.

***

I have written on this blog at length about the Problem of Love.  How are we to engage our love in the world in a meaningful way - our love which includes Eros, Agape, Philia, Storge: four different faces of One Single Love?

It is a problem that's particularly acute for actors, who, as the late Marvin Hamlisch described, can aptly sing, "What I Did for Love" - a song written about what actors and performers do "for love".  We give our all to a business that is often brutal to us.  We are taken advantage of by producers, directors and drama teachers.  We often live in poverty and on the emotional edge, simply because we love what we do so much that we're never smart about it.  We allow ourselves to be taken advantage of.  As Othello says of himself, after killing Desdemona, we are ones that love "not wisely but too well".

Othello with Iago, lamenting that he hasn't quite learned good stewardship of love.

But can you love well at all if you love not wisely?

And are we even called to love "wisely"?  Isn't the Christian Faith, indeed all of life, about giving it our all, loving with our whole selves and not counting the cost?  Are we supposed to be careful with our caritas?  Isn't love about just feeling or doing or expressing and not holding back?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, we are not to keep our hearts uncircumcised.  We are to realize that love involves suffering; love will always hurt.  Staying away from love for fear of pain is always a sin.  We are to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls, and love our neighbors as ourselves; indeed we are to love one another as He loved us - by taking up our crosses and following Him.

But no, we must not think that love can be love if we love ineffectively, without maturity, without prudence, without stewardship.

***

In twelve years as a Catholic, I have never heard a homily about this.  I have never heard anybody in the Church speak on the Stewardship of Love - and that's not exactly "How do I budget my time, talent and treasure?"  It's about, "How do I love wisely SO THAT I may love well?"

***

Let me give some examples, all from either events in my life or in the lives of people I know.

  • If you love an addict, you stop enabling his addiction.  You don't look the other way when he or she boozes up, you intervene and refuse to pretend the elephant in the living room isn't there.  This may cause rejection, anger, fighting, outbursts - but it's the proper stewardship of love.

  • If you love your kids, you don't let them do whatever they want whenever they want to.  You don't try to be their best friend.  You correct them when they're wrong and punish them when the situation warrants.  This may cause gigantic temper tantrums and some major effort on your part - but it's the proper stewardship of love.

  • If you love the poor, you don't give a homeless guy cash when he begs, as it will almost certainly go towards drugs or booze.  You give to the shelter, or someplace that can help him in a real way.  This requires effort and makes it harder to put a sop in your social consciousness - but it's the proper stewardship of love.

  • If you love your back-yard neighbor family, you don't let them come in and out of your house without knocking and spread the dysfunction of their household into yours (I speak from personal experience). This may require you to put your foot down, or to move - but it's the proper stewardship of love.

  • If you love your children, you don't let a bad bishop enable a child pornographer to victimize them; nor do you let this child pornographer slide by without competent psychological help, despite what the bishop intends.  This may make your fellow "conservative Catholics" hate you - but it's the proper stewardship of love.

  • And if you love your fellow man enough to evangelize to him, and he rejects you - are you to keep trying, to let your heart bleed for him, to stick around and try different tactics, like pop music or jumbo-trons or gay friendly Masses in the hopes of snagging his attention?  No, if you spread the Gospel and it is rejected, you are to wipe the dust off your feet as a witness against those who won't hear it and move on.  Our Lord Himself told us to do this - for this is the proper stewardship of love.


What Is "Communion"?



In my most recent post, How to Find Communion in a Church that Doesn't Care, I touch on something that has a more current application than is at first apparent - and that is this: the push to allow divorced and "remarried" Catholics to be allowed to receive communion is not an argument on the nature of marriage as it is an argument on the nature of communion.

To put it as simply as possible: our salvation, and all the good that we can do, is rooted in Sacrificial Love, which is Jesus Christ and the mystery of His mission, a mission of loving beyond the limits, which entails suffering, death and rebirth - a mystery in which we participate in so far as we are in communion with the Body of Christ, which is the Church.  Participation in this mystery is a lifelong process of sanctification, which is the essence of eternal life.  There is only one Baptism, one Lord and one Church, and therefore every single human on this planet finds himself or herself in some sort of relation to this Mystical Body, which is nothing less than the ongoing incarnation of God in time and history.  How and to what extent we relate to this Body may be called "communion" - atheists being outside of communion with Christ at least visibly (though in their search for Truth and their good works they are in partial communion with Him, without their realizing or admitting it), and baptized Catholics who are free of mortal sin being in full communion with Him visibly (or in communion with Him as fully as they possibly can be at that moment).  And this communion is a reality that is both conveyed and represented by the sacrament of "Communion", for, at the Eucharist, we share in the sacrifice, the spiritual and physical infusion of His precious body and blood into our own, a grace that remakes us and somehow changes our very nature.

But, as I say, all of us vary in the extent to which we are in communion with Christ.  Even those of us who are most serious about our Faith, and who long for God as a hart longs for water (Ps. 42:1) are never in this life fully and perfectly in communion with Him, for to be in full and perfect communion with Him means to love as He loved - perfectly, selflessly, without sin or guile - and none of us ever seems to achieve that in this life, except perhaps the saints, and even they were also sinners who were busy repenting (see below).

Therefore, a married Catholic who has abandoned his or her spouse and is civilly "remarried" to another person, with whom this "remarried" Catholic is setting up house and having sex, is not by that very act in full communion with Christ.  The first step toward communion is repentance.  The first words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Mark are simply ...

"The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!" (Mark 1:15)

...  and the entire point of Peter's first sermon, his stirring speech on the day of Pentecost echoes this ...

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38)

So, no matter what the Church decides to do as a disciplinary matter regarding divorced and "remarried" Catholics, they cannot change the definition of Communion.  They can formally decide to admit unrepentant D&R Catholics to Communion, as they have informally decided to admit unrepentant pro-abortion Catholics to Communion, regardless of how this demoralizes and confuses the faithful.  But such unrepentant sinners are simply not in full communion with Christ, and therefore in receiving Communion at Mass they are living a lie, to the disheartening perplexity of others as well as to the eternal peril of their own souls (see 1 Cor. 11:29).

For the authority of the Church extends to two arenas, the temporal and worldly one and the eternal and spiritual one.  The Church is protected from error in exercising its authority in teaching on the spiritual realm, in matters of Faith and Morals.  But the Church has always erred, at least to some extent, in exercising its authority in temporal and worldly matters, as it very well might err in formally deciding to forego the call to Repentance for those who seek Communion.

There is a natural quality of the Church and of all Christians that is worldly and sinful, and hence is part of the "long defeat" of history that Tolkien describes, while the supernatural quality is eternal and shows forth "glimpses of final victory".

Full communion with Christ is that final victory.  All parodies of that are part of the "long defeat".





How to Find Communion in a Church that Doesn't Care

G. K. Chesterton

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

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

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

***

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

What the Sex Scandal has Cost the Church



What has the sex abuse scandal cost the Catholic Church?  Not merely ruined lives.  Not merely $2.7 billion dollars.  Jo Renee Formicola argues that a price has been paid that we haven't even been noticing.

What she points out is this: because of the perfidious negligence of the bishops, civil law now trumps canon law. The two millennial tradition of the separate and conflicting realms in the West - civil / temporal vs. spiritual - has now collapsed. Bishop Finn in Kansas City willingly gave oversight of his diocese to the county government - just to avoid a misdemeanor rap. But, in effect, every bishop has done the same. Protecting pedophiles has led to this. From the article ...

“The legal system has stepped forward to do what the church itself would not do. It has challenged the church and demanded information on priests’ medical and psychiatric records,” Formicola said. “Things that were held ecclesiastically as being outside the law and protected by privilege, are no longer protected by privilege.
“That makes a huge difference,” she explained, “because it means the Catholic church is now treated like any other corporate entity. If you’re going to investigate a corporation, they have to turn information over to you. Now certain things can be subpoenaed and there’s no question that it can be done and it will be done.”

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Form, Content and Love



The biggest challenge to Eros - which is to say the biggest challenge to finding a way to love and to pour all of your heart and creative energy into something - is finding a form to fit your content.

Last night we had 200 people in Inwood, Iowa have such a good time at our murder mystery performance of The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Murder that they hailed my actress Maria and me as gods, had a parade in our honor, named a street after us, and built a small shrine to Kevin O'Brien, at which they are sacrificing farm animals even as I speak.  Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.

Somehow I've found a genre that fits my style of writing, character acting, improv and humor.  There's nothing else quite like it and if you've seen any other murder mystery performances, what we do is not like those shows at all (most of which, I've heard, are pretty awful).  It's really impossible to describe what our shows are like, how liberating they are, and what a ministry of humor and joy Upstage Productions is - both to us and to our audiences.

But it took me many years to find - or to shape - just this kind of thing that works in just this way.  It's a peculiar and unpredictable marriage of form and content.

And yet all around me I see actors banging their heads against the wall.  They love what they do, they would die for theater or the cinematic arts, but they haven't found a form to pour their content into.  And so they languish in L.A. waiting tables, or they do an infinite number of community theater shows, or they find themselves volunteering for non-paying gigs that drain the life out of them.  Or they find their form but they don't have the resources to shape it.  And so they plug away until they realize they'll never get anywhere on their own terms, and then they give up.

And I see it all the time in romance.  Women in particular will set their sights on getting married and will put blinders up if they find a guy that's not really the right guy, but that they're by-God going to marry anyway, once they twist his arm hard enough until he asks them.

And I see it in other areas, such as friendships and business relationships.  I have wasted a great deal of time on friendships with people who, time and again, would prove to me that they were selfish, narrow manipulative prigs.  Or simply game players and users.  Clients and employees can be this way, too, and one of the things you learn as an entrepreneur is how to avoid hiring vampires and aliens - and even how to avoid bad clients, though it may mean turning away business.

And, if you're foolish enough to evangelize in some way, you run into this all the time.  This is why we are told to shake the dust off our sandals if we are rejected, and not to bang our heads against a wall in a futile attempt to force the issue.

Because this is a great mystery.  How you love, what you love, who you love - and who loves you back - great suffering is part of this, and great joy.  But it is a mystery and it is all about a strange cooperation between nature and grace.






Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tolkien on Mortality, Myth and More



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

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




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




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




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



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Heart Speaks to Heart - with Miraculous Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack continues ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now the miracle continues ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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


***


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



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




Monday, January 12, 2015

My Eurekas Spring Forth

Downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • We become what we love.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Inside Out - Actors and Catholics



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Good Seed among the Bad



Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.  So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’  He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’  But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (Mat. 13:24-30)

Note that the Kingdom is compromised, at least for now.  The Kingdom ideally and ultimately is of the "good seed".  St. John echoes this.

 God is light and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

But in the same way that the Church on earth is composed of wheat borne of good seed and false-wheat borne of the enemy's seed, so our hearts are also a Kingdom of mixed ingredients, an adulterated slop of light and darkness.  Humility admits this.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  (1 John 1:8)

When Marlowe's Dr. Faustus reads this verse, he concludes that the Bible is nonsense, so he shuts it and gives himself over to Satan and to the magic arts.

"If we say that we have no sin,
We deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us."
Why, then, belike we must sin
And so consequently die.
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
What doctrine call you this? Che serĂ , serĂ ?
What will be, shall be? Divinity, adieu! (Dr. Faustus, I i, 41-47)

Like too many biblical scholars, he plucks proof-texts out of context.  For the very next verse reads ...

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
The demon Mephistopheles helps Dr. Faustus study his Bible,
a scene played out at many a modern seminary and Bible College.

Faustus,the false divine, has not the humility to put up with this.  He wants a short cut.  He rejects the cross, the cross that is common to all us us, the cross that St. Paul described, "For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing." (Rom. 7:19)

It is hard enough that the field of the Kingdom - the Church - is compromised, weeds among the wheat; our very hearts, as Christians, are compromised, and we know how bitter the fruit of those weeds can be.  And while Our Lord admonishes us (via the parable above) not to uproot the weeds of the field (i.e., judging the spiritual state of others and thereby supplanting God's prerogative), He encourages us to prune ourselves rather harshly, chopping off even our very hands if they lead us to sin.  (Mark 9:43)  Thus we are to practice humility and patience with others, ("Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." - Eph. 4:2), while being ruthless with ourselves and the weeds in our own back yard.

And yet, Mature Christians, it's more complicated than that, for "bearing with one another in love" does not mean that we are obliged to be victimized.  It also does not mean that we are to put on blinders to the evil that's around us.

A reader recently left a comment on an old post of mine about Bishop Finn, in which I suggested that the bishop was not being honest about how he handled the Fr. Rattigan situation (my assessment of what Finn was really doing was affirmed by the criminal court).  The reader told me I needed to go to confession for slander ... for suggesting that a bishop might have been dishonest.

But that's ridiculous.  Bishops lie all the time, and sometimes they get caught, and when they do, they lie some more.  And some bishops are weeds among the wheat, for cassocks and mitres do not make the man; if they did, then Dr. Faustus, who consorts with devils, and who struts about the play dressed in his cassock, would not warrant being dragged down into hell at the end of the drama in Act Five.

For, in Our Lord's parable, when the servants reported to the master, "There are weeds among your wheat," he did not say, "Go to confession!  How dare you point out the obvious to me!"  He admitted that "an enemy has done this" and that the tares were not the stuff of which the Kingdom was made; and while he told the servants it was not their job to uproot the tares, he made it quite clear what the harvester would do with the bad fruit when the time came.  And that is a warning to every reader of this, directly.  We can't control those about us, but we can - and we must - make sure the fruit we bear is what-for-bread and not weeds-for-flame.

The Kingdom is of Good Seed.  God is of light, not of darkness.  We are in a world that is still of darkness, but we have seen a great light.  And we are to hold to Peter's prophetic words - to the truth of Divine Revelation as guaranteed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church - we are to focus on it "as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (2 Pet. 1:19)

For the Kingdom is compromised ... for now.  But the light slowly increases, and the darkness shall not overcome it.  (John 1:5)  And when the stinging fire rages at the End of Days, all will be revealed, our works will be tried, and then that blazing Truth, which we often don't want to see, will stand Victorious before us ... and we will be judged by His light.