Monday, September 1, 2014

Anonymous Saints: What is God About?

My friend Joe Grabowski sends along another example in my Anonymous Saints series.

This is the story of a 99-year old woman who makes a new dress every day and donates it to a needy child in Africa.

Now, I can't help but think that my son, Colin O'Brien, who is an exact clone of me, will react to this post the way he reacted to my sharing this on Facebook ...

Trust God's Word!
LikeLike ·  · 


When asked to elaborate on his comment, "This is some middle aged woman nonsense" (which is exactly what I would say in one of my typically foul tempers), Colin explains (sarcastically) ...

God is about odd fonts without serif. God is about God is about red borders. God is about old parchment backgrounds. God is about ellipses. God is about using the "tab" key to its full potential. 
"Like" this and God will "like" you. "Share" this to get your "share" in paradise.

Likewise, I'm sure he'd say (regarding the Old Lady who Makes Dresses for Kids in Africa) ...

Great!  An "anonymous saint" being used to promote a local credit union on a cheesy Iowa news show.  I can smell the odor of incense hovering about Grandma, right along with a whiff of Gold Bond Medicated Powder.

(That's me putting words into Colin's mouth, but he'd probably "like" it or "share" it, even though he didn't exactly say it.)

And of course this is the danger you face if you try to do a series on Anonymous Saints.  Tonita Helton's piece on her mother, who grew in sanctity while suffering the ravages of cancer, is far from "middle aged woman nonsense".

And why is that?  Why is Tonita's piece more powerful, more real, and this piece (and that Facebook meme) a little contrived, a little Unreal?

Because the cross is present in Tonita's piece, and absent from the Sewing Grandma piece and the Facebook meme.  

An Anonymous Saint without the Cross is just daytime TV "happy news" or a commercial for a local credit union.


But I'm including this piece because there's also the flip side of the coin.

Yesterday Colin had us all watch The Gangs of New York, a Martin Scorsese film about mid-19th century New York City, the climax of which is not unlike what happened a few weeks ago up the road from us in Ferguson.  Colin usually has very good taste in movies, and he's introduced me to some excellent films.  But though I'm hardly a prude, I found The Gangs of New York to be pretty much Violence Porn on steroids, with a lame screenplay, a poorly structured plot, and a ton of cheesy Hollywood stereotypes obscured by the gritty hyper-realism of the style.  It's not clear what the theme of the movie was, or if it even had a theme, other than, Everybody's violent and faith makes no difference and that's just life.  There are thematic elements of Identity and the Search for the Missing Father (which are both very common in movies of today), but the themes aren't really taken seriously or developed with any courage or integrity.

If Sewing Grandma and Cheesy Facebook meme are one side of the story, hyper-realistic violent nihilism is the other.

So we Catholics try to keep the balance of sanity.  We try to pick up our cross daily and follow Christ.  This means we balance between two false choices: that life is sentimentally sweet and sappy if we're only nice to one another (on the one hand), and that life is a jungle in which beasts disguised as men simply tear into one another with a lot more relish than beasts in the real jungle every would (on the other).  Neither vision of the world is entirely true.  A sweet little old lady serving God by making dresses at age 99 is partially true; street gangs denying God by destroying one another in an orgy of violence is partially true - but both of them miss the central truth of the horrible contradiction between sanctity and sin: the awesome love of God and the terrifying reality of the sacrifice that love demands in order to be real - a sacrifice that rings out across all time and history from that place called Golgotha.  Golgotha showed us something that included the Sewing Grandma and that included The Gangs of New York but that transcended and transformed them both.

And it showed us that through Our Lord on the Cross and through the next day's Empty Tomb.

Radio Interview

Tomorrow morning (Tuesday, Sept. 2), I'll be interviewed on the Son Rise Morning Show on EWTN Radio at 8:40 am Eastern Time / 7:40 am Central Time, plugging the new episodes of G. K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense.  Be sure to tune it!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Big Adventure in the Little Grand Canyon

It was 95 degrees and humid and there was absolutely no one else on the trail, and you are forced to climb the canyon's rock bed, which is dangerously slippery, but I actually survived the Little Grand Canyon of Pomona, Illinois and had a great time.

This is the trail.

... and the rocks are slippery.  At one point I was simply standing and drinking, and my feet fell out from under me.  I hit the rocks hard.  (No, it's not what you're thinking.  I was drinking Gatorade.)

The trail does not go "down" (to hell) but right "up the canyon chute" as the addition to the directions says.  Fun, but in flash flood conditions, hikers walking up the canyon chute would simply be washed to their deaths - as has happened here.

A field of my favorite plants - ferns!

More ferns.

Yes, Ideally this works.  Practically it doesn't, as at one point both the trail and the blazes simply vanish.

Cooling off under the drippings of a cliff ledge.

After I lost the trail, I used my GPS to return off trail - but I had to bushwhack through this.

Fidelity is the Key to Success

Mickey Rooney showing us what a Frustrated Actor looks like.

He was the brother of a friend of mine and he lived in Chicago.  He had moved there to pursue his career in show business.  He discovered that while there may be more opportunities for actors in Chicago than there were in St. Louis, there are also a lot more frustrations.  In St. Louis, in any given week, there might be five auditions - four of them for jobs that pay nothing, and one for a job that will pay maybe $20 for a six-show run.  In Chicago, in any given week, there might be 25 auditions - but 20 will be for jobs that pay nothing and 5 will be for jobs that pay maybe $20 for a six-show run.

And he was frustrated.  He was angry.  He was bitter.  And he was a comic improv actor - and there's nothing uglier and sadder in show business (next to stage mothers) than a frustrated, bitter comic improv actor.

For years he had been plugging away.  He somehow managed to get his troupe on a Local Access Cable channel.  Well, you can imagine how successful that was - even in the 1980's when some people might have (accidentally) watched Local Access Cable TV channels.

He was convinced that this was the move that would launch his career and get him noticed.  And of course he was miserable and angry when that didn't happen.

I have lost touch with him over the years.  He may, like many actors, have given up and gotten a day job.  Or maybe he made it big in some way.  But if he did, I can't help imagining that he's still miserable and angry because he has not made it bigger.

I have been very blessed in that I have supported myself and my family all of my life by working in show business - except for a brief stint of delivering flyers door-to-door (I referred to myself back then as an advertising distribution specialist).  But my goal has never been to be noticed.  

My goal has always been to do good work.  And once I realized I could (if I were clever enough and worked hard enough) make good money by doing good work, then that became the goal: do good work that people desire to see, so that they'll pay you what you're worth.  That's it.  Of course this meant I had to stop auditioning for others and begin producing and marketing my own material, but that was just part of the package.

And the funny thing is that while I have not made it big (as has my former Upstage Productions actress Jenna Fischer) and while my EWTN work is sometimes only noticed by people who are convinced that Pope Paul VI was kidnapped and replaced by an evil surrogate who looked exactly like him except for his ear lobes (an EWTN fan once sent me a long and detailed letter "proving" that), somehow this modicum of fidelity that I've given my vocation has led to a career in which I am doing exactly the thing I was made to do and which apparently no one else in the entire universe is doing: touring the country playing all the parts in comedy shows I write and getting paid well for it, while writing an unusual blog about Faith and Acting on the side.

And so, frustrated single Catholic friends, keep this in mind.  Don't focus on the outcome; focus on being true to the moment that is right in front of you.  That's the key not only to fidelity to both kinds of vocation (the vocation of marriage-priesthood and the vocation of one's career), but also the key to success.

Worshiping the Lie: Catholics, Mormons and Muslims

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.

We all want things to go our own way, and so we fashion our idols to flatter us and to enable us.  This is true even if we are serving what we believe to be not an idol but the true God, for the temptation is always to make of this God something manageable and man-made, something that we can put in a box and manipulate.

And so we see even otherwise good Catholics strain Church teaching past the breaking point in order to justify horrific acts that even those God-awful fornicating tattooed atheists perceive to be horrific, such as Torture.  And then, to no one's surprise, when we find that our enemies are torturing us in the same way that we are torturing them, the foundations of good and bad behavior crumble and we are left with a world where those God-awful fornicating tattooed atheists are right, and our religion (at least in practice) is shown to be a sham.  What good does faith in the God of revelation do us or do anyone if we're willing to rationalize the worst thing one human being can do to another, the destruction of the image of God in man?

Likewise, many Catholics still condone the virtues of Lying, even when Church teaching is abundantly clear in condemning it.

But sometimes it takes a fresh perspective for Catholics to realize we've had our heads up our butts.

In the same way that we can't see the inhumanity of torture until Muslim Radicals torture innocent Americans, so we can't see the pernicious evil of the Lie until we see another religion devote itself to it.

It seems to me that if we were to compare Islam and Mormonism, Mormonism is worse, for Mormonism's foundation is the Lie, and consequently falsehood cannot be avoided, even for those modern day Mormons who practice in good faith, for at the heart of what they believe, and at the origin of what they believe, are a series of lies - self-serving vulgar lies.  There are plenty of examples of that, and this link here, which describes the Mormon tenet of Lying for God, is one of many (Catholic Lying Apologists take note and see where your heresy will ultimately deliver you).

By comparison, when it comes to Islam, there seems to have been (for all his flaws) a genuine religious sentiment behind Mohammed, whereas Joseph Smith was a fraud and a huckster from the get go, a televangelist before TV, a prime candidate for an episode of American Greed had the show been on back then.  There was a desire to serve God in Mohammed; Smith's desires seem far less dignified.

This week on Facebook, a discussion sprang up on the Legion of Christ, an organization within the Catholic Church that is filled with many people of good will, but which was founded by Marciel Maciel, a moral monster, a fraud, a liar and a child molester, a man who goes beyond mere hucksterism and selfishness in his willingness to abuse religion for the darkest of motives.  When one of my friends defended the Legion, which has done some good and contains some good priests and affiliated lay members, I countered ...

The problem with the Legion is foundational. The charism was a fraud. Some good has come from the organization, but it is defective at its roots. And many of its priests and lay followers have done some awful things, not just at random, but inspired by and led by and protected by the organization.
A house built on a cracked foundation, or erected over a growing sink hole, may have some beautiful rooms, but you can't let people live there for long.

This is because the Legion of Christ was built upon a false basis; it was founded upon the Lie.

Of course we're all liars, we're all sinners, we're all potential Joseph Smiths hoping to have as many women as we want sleep with us and worship us (at least I am!) - but most of us are fighting against this tendency in our nature, most of us are ashamed of our own hypocrisy and our own secret devotion to the Lie.

But when we stop fighting our corruption, when we do just the opposite, when we build our lives upon a false foundation, when (even with profoundly religious motives) we reject the reality of the cross and opt instead for the Unreality of a more comfortable fiction, we are setting ourselves up for a great fall.

And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Mat. 7:27)

And many of us will experience that fall because we are serving an idol of our own making.

We are worshiping the lie.


ADDENDUM & NOTE TO COMMENTERS: The issue here is the origin of a religion - was it founded upon a genuine (though wrong) religious sentiment / perceived revelation, or was it founded upon an outright lie in order to manipulate others and to seek an entirely selfish gain?

To argue the fruits of any religion or religious movement is to miss the point.  I am no more comparing Muslim atrocities to Mormon atrocities (and there have been Mormon atrocities) than I am examining the good fruits of the Legion of Christ or of Medjugorje in light of the lies and frauds their founders perpetrated.  I am looking at the veracity of the movement's founders and the foundation they built.  Was the foundation based upon either a devotion to truth (though possibly mistaken) or a devotion to what they knew was a lie?  Yes, Christ told us "ye shall know them by their fruits", but good faith followers of bad religions can produce good fruits.  And I'm not talking about the followers, and especially not the followers of good faith.  I am talking about the founders and their intentions.

It's the good faith / bad faith distinction of the founders I'm pursuing here.

It's also rather obvious that we are not fighting Mormon or Legionary terrorists world wide.

So please try to stick to the point - or else the comments will go south very quickly.

Anonymous Saints: In the Darkest Hours, Joy

A young Tonita Helton and her mother

Here's the first in my new series on Anonymous Saints - Ordinary People of Extraordinary Virtue.

And it's a story of great suffering, and of joy found in the darkest hours.

Tonita M. Helton writes of her mother, who suffered greatly in her battle with cancer.  It is not an easy story to read, but it's beautifully written and wonderfully profound.

And then I looked into her eyes, those brown eyes rimmed with scabs and stripped even of their lashes. In their depths, I did not see pain or anger or bitterness or despair. I saw peace. And I saw joy. And I saw Christ. ... 
... To quote The Princess Bride, one of my favorite cult movies, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” While true so far as it goes, it is incomplete. The fuller truth is reflected in the face of those who suffer as my mother did, who through the grace of God, accept even the unacceptable, and in so doing, enter into the great paradox of the Cross.

It's a story to inspire us with the awesome fact that if such tremendous suffering can be united with His cross by an Anonymous Saint - by someone's mother, by someone so ordinary and yet so holy - so too can our petty and silly inconveniences be offered up in this same way.

Read the whole thing and thank God for the goodness that is all around us.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Real Desecration of Marriage

She was one of the presenters at a "Journey of Faith" class that my wife and I were taking, back when we were looking into becoming Episcopalians.

She told the following story.

When my friends Amy and Bob got married, I made a tapestry for them that had their names "Amy and Bob" on it, in the middle of a heart, signifying their life-long love.  
After their divorce, Amy came out of the closet and announced she was marrying her Lesbian lover, Sue.  She brought me the tapestry.  "Can you pull out Bob's name and weave in Sue's?" she asked.  "I want this to say Amy and Sue, not Amy and Bob."
And I was surprised at my reaction!  I was reluctant to do this!  And I have always thought of myself as a caring liberal!

I turned to her and asked the only question that needed asking.  "If she had said, I'm leaving Bob and marrying Fred.  Will you yank out Bob's name and sew in Fred's?  I want the tapestry to say "Amy and Fred", would you have been at all distressed?"

"Oh, no!" she replied, her eyes beaming, grinning a stupid grin.  "That would not have bothered me at all!"


Over at the Ink Desk, where I mirrored my post on The Scandal of Coffee and Donuts, Fr. Matthew Schneider comments ...

I recently tweeted something similar to your whole issue about gay marriage, marriage, courtship et al:

Serial adultery & divorce destroys marriage more than gay marriage.
B4 fighting gay marriage, we need to restore marriage.
You can read the ~75 replies at:

Some of the "inside the beltway" Catholics got offended but unfortunately as I responded later:

If marriage is just "2 people who love each other sexually & want to spend a long time together" denying gays is discrimination.


The desecration of Marriage in this country did not begin with the "gays", nor will it end with them.

New Episodes of The Apostle of Common Sense!

Gary Hoffman, me, Kaiser Johnson in a scene from The Apostle of Common Sense

Season Seven of G. K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense premieres this Sunday on EWTN.  (We Think it's Season Seven.  It might be Season Eight.  I've lost count along the way.)

This season features 13 new episodes in which Dale Ahlquist as host of the series, along with Chuck Chalberg as Chesterton, yours truly as liberal ex-seminatiran Stanford Nutting and a number of other characters, present an engaging guide to the wit and wisdom of the greatest writer of the 20th century, and a man who will someday be canonized a saint.

Episodes air in the U.S. on Sundays at 9:00 pm Eastern Time (8:00 pm Central), and on Wednesdays at 2:00 pm Eastern Time (1:00 pm Central).

Our premiere episode is The Man Who Went Sane.

Be sure to tune in!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Happy Feast Day

I almost forgot, until my friend Jim Ridley from Texas reminded me.  Today is the feast day of Bl. Dominic Barberi, who received Bl. John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church.

I appeared as Bl. Dominic on The Journey Home a few years ago and told his amazing story.

He's almost an Anonymous Saint.

Anonymous Saints

This is not exactly what I want - but read on

As regular readers must have noticed, I talk a lot on this blog about how things are not working in the Church and in our lives - from our sinful natures, to our problems loving one another, to bad bishops, to you name it.

However, as I mentioned yesterday, the real astonishment is not that we are sick, but that we are ever well.  And a while back, I described the selfless love of one of my non-Christian actresses, and some of the heroic virtue she showed as a single mother in raising her son.

Now I hate sappy good news stories more than most.  POLICE OFFICER HELPS OLD LADY ACROSS STREET is far less important than POLICE OFFICER SHOOTS UNARMED MAN SIX TIMES.  To plug "happy news" is as insipid as cute little pictures of kittens on the internet.

But, one of the things you discover when you become a Catholic is how inspiring the saints are.  Their lives really do give us hope.  And it's a hope that's much deeper and more real than pictures of cute kittens, because lives of true love are always burdened with the cross.  Real joy always shares in the cross, and is always tinged with sorrow, and so is real virtue.

So I'm asking for stories of heroic virtue and self-sacrifice - stories of "anonymous saints" on earth.  I'm not asking for people to assert that they're great grandma is in heaven because she made such good oatmeal cookies; I'm asking if any of you can send me (either in the combox or via email or Facebook) stories of ordinary people leading lives of extraordinary goodness - true stories, that you've seen or experienced or heard about or can link to.

We need that to balance the evil we see all around us.  We need to remember why we love God - because we love what is Good, and many, many of us (even though a person like me hardly ever says it) are very good.

I'd like to post maybe one story a week - or even do a podcast or something.  Anonymous Saints - Ordinary People who are Extraordinarily Good.  That would be the title.  And it would bring a lot of hope to a lot of people, I think.

If you like this idea, or if you have suggestions, let me know!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Our Eyes Enlightened by Growing Love

This is either writer George MacDonald, or one of the cast members of Duck Dynasty

A reader sends along this thoughtful reflection on some of my recent posts ...

I've been really appreciating the thread running through a lot of your recent posts on reality / unreality, and your most recent one served as a wonderful external confirmation of something God has been pointing out to me. Many of our problems (all?) stem from the fact that we are unwilling / unable to really love--love requiring us to immerse ourselves in the mess of other people's lives, just as the Son of God entered into the mess of our world and became flesh.

Those of us who are devout can easily mistake intellectual propositions which are true for Him who is Truth itself. When Jesus says, "the truth will set you free", it does not mean that we can recite statements of truth at people as if they are magical incantations. If we want them to know the God who is Love, then we have to love them just as Christ loved us when we were unworthy.

I am reminded of a passage I read recently in George MacDonald's short story "Stephen Archer":

[Sara] learned rapidly. The lesson-book was of course the New Testament; and Stephen soon discovered that Sara's questions, moving his pity at firs because of the ignorance they displayed, always left him thinking about some point that had never occurred to him before; so that at length he regarded Sara as a being of superior intelligence waylaid and obstructed by unfriendly powers upon her path towards the threshold of the kingdom, while she looked up to him as to one supreme in knowledge as in goodness. But she never could understand the pastor [of the church they attended]. This would have been a great trouble to Stephen, had not his vanity been flattered by her understanding of himself. He did not consider that growing love had enlightened his eyes to see into her heart, and enabled him thus to use an ordinary human language for the embodiment of common-sense ideas; whereas the speech of the pastor contained such an admixture of technicalities as to be unintelligible to the neophyte. [emphasis mine]

I just love that line: "growing love had enlightened his eyes to see into her heart". The problem, of course, being that growing love will inevitably take you to the cross in some fashion, and we don't want that, do we! Much easier to merely implement an evangelization program so we can wash our hands clean of the whole affair with nothing troubling our consciences. . .

Cracklin Prose, You Make Me Smile

James O'Keefe, if you read this blog (as you sometimes do), the fact that you've made Cracked's list of the Top Five Successful People Who Everyone Forgets are Exposed Frauds should be a badge of honor.  If Cracked ever includes me in the list of Top Five Blogging Catholics with a Secret Passion for Transvestite Midgets and Stale Chinese Food, I'll be overjoyed.

Meanwhile, where else can you find this quality of prose and this kind of insight into current affairs and pop culture?  Cracked might not get the dangers of Planned Parenthood, for example, but they get a lot of other stuff, and they make it funny, too.

For instance, just this alone is worth the price of admission (which is free) ...

Theresa Caputo, also known as the Long Island Medium, can totally talk to dead people, for reals, no joke. She claims to have started Haley Joel Osmenting when she was 4 years old and has been a practicing (and certified!) medium for over 10 years, showcasing her amazing abilities on her hit TLC reality show since 2011. She presumably keeps her hair in the shape of a microphone to help her receive transmissions from the spirit world.

Read more: