Thursday, June 30, 2011

Not Built with a Full Deck

Back in January I blogged about things that are "fruit" or "unreal". This Unreality is related to the Catholic Ghetto, which I have written about at length. But you find Unreality all about you and not just in the pews.

For example, most of my actors live Unreal lives. They loom large in their own minds as brilliant, engaging people, as stars, as idols. And sometimes they are quite charming people. Sometimes they're just unemployed drug addicts. But they almost never seem to have any grasp on reality or on life beyond themselves. This makes it very difficult to work with them.

And we all know people who are Unreal in varying ways, whose lives and whose families just don't seem "down to earth", whose whole way of living seems contrived. Some people live as if their fecal matter doesn't stink, or as if the house of cards they've built were reality - someplace they could live in, as if their hall of mirrors were made of solid oak. And this applies to Christians and non-Christians, to people of all walks of life.

The lure of Unreality, of coming up with a substitute for what God has actually given us, is almost irresistible. Truth is stranger than fiction, says Chesterton, because we have made fiction to suit ourselves.

Of course we need to strive for Reality in religion, to adore not idols made by our own hands and minds, but God Himself. This is hard, as Newman points out, for we are bound to profess to be more Christian than we really are, to aim higher than we attain on a daily basis, and thus we are bound to be hypocrites to some degree.

But the problem is not so much aiming to be Real and falling shy of the mark as aiming at something altogether Unreal.

A book I recently finished is Authenticity - a Biblical Theology of Discernment by Fr. Thomas Dubay. Fr. Dubay argues that Authenticity is the hallmark of one's relationship with Christ, that Authenticity is the doorway to holiness.

This makes sense. For if God is anything, He is Reality: He is That Which is Ultimately and Completely REAL. The more real we become, the more we become like God - which is what sanctification is all about.

This is why humor is so important. With humor, we can laugh at who we really are, under our pretenses, behind our masks, beneath the cosmetics of Unreality. There have been those who have suggested to me that it's not right to make fun of fellow Catholics behaving badly; but if we can't laugh at our own sins, we're sunk - sunk beneath a tide of make-believe, an ocean of illusions.

We are lousy smelly sinners who pretend to be more than we are, and whose justification and salvation starts with God and hinges on our acceptance of Him. And if we can laugh at ourselves and our pretentiousness we can chase the devil away, we can rid ourselves of all our own conceits and become far less conceited in the process.

May we let the Lord of Many Mansions build us into Living Stones, and may we let fall our flimsy houses of cards. And may we have the grace to laugh at them as they crumble!


Anonymous said...

Mr. O'Brien,
I am only 17, yet I find it profound how a single man can prove that there is an almighty God, that the world was created, that life is sacred, and that Roman Catholicism is the true faith without using Scripture, but rather buy using logical arguments based on logical derivations of Scripture. I wish that EWTN's Apostle of Common Sense could have more exposure because it brings Chesterton's theology down simple, conversation form. I have only The Man Who Was Thursday, and it amazes me how he writes convincing ecclesiology, but references the Scripture once. Thank you for all you and the Ahlquists have done.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Anonymous, it is heartening to find that Chesterton speaks so powerfully to young people. And though I was not young when I discovered him, he is the one man most responsible for my conversion.

This summer the annual conference of the American Chesterton Society is in St. Louis, my home town. I encourage you to come - even if you have to bring your parents with you! We typically have a good number of young folks at the conference. Lots of great presentations on Chesterton, including our performance of his hit play "Magic". See

And, indeed, arguments that are extra-scriptural are crucial in today's world, where the authority of Scripture is not accepted by most people. Chesterton was one of the greatest thinkers of all time, and reading him will always bring great insights and rewards. Keep reading!