Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Spawn of Nietzsche

OK, I can understand young girls getting a secret thrill out of Ayn Rand - Rand's novels are Hallmark Movies on steroids, where the shirtless heroes are selfish geniuses who take what they want when they want it and ride off into the sunset on some powerful and muscular horse, snorting along the way (the horse, not the hero).  And girls have always liked Bad Boys.

But why would young guys get into this stuff?

Well, young guys don't typically get into Ayn Rand, but it seems lots of American Kids are Hitler Youth - devotees of little  Freddie Nietzsche.  The syphillitic Nietzsche and his charming witticisms can be seen here ...


I would just like to point out that's me doing the acting, not my moustache.

At any rate, this particular video gets a ton of comments on YouTube, almost all of them from college boys who have never read Nietzsche, but who hear rumors that Nietzsche said that God is dead and that you can do whatever you want, and the more of a selfish jerk you are, the more your morality is that of the Superman.

This is a very attractive philosophy to college boys, who are selfish jerks to begin with, and who really need to feel that their desire to dominate and not-give-a-fig is justified by philosopohy - even if it's the philosophy of Hitler and Rand. So most of the comments on this video sound like this (I am copying and pasting the following verbatim) ...

Interesting how -in the description fo this video- they add "syphilitic" when Nietzsche's name appears. Just like saying: look where that thought will lead you.. so don't pay attention to it. Big balls are needed to go deep in Nietzsche's rational work, which goes beyond the control of the ego, that ego that has been represented by GOD or moral consciousness. ¿And what is left beyond these two concepts we do not know and can only imagine? The unique answer relies in the depths of each of us.

- So writes someone who calls himself "McBrave15".  I believe the "15" part. 

And I wonder if, between video games, this young man returns to the thrilling intellectual challenge of discovering what is left beyond those two concepts that we do not know and can only imagine.  ¿What could it be I wonder? I am certain at least that the unique answer does indeed rely in the depths of each of us. All those movies about the Force and all that tell me so.

At any rate, it takes some Big McBalls to go deep in Nietzsche's rational work, which goes beyond the control of the ego, but you can do it with very little McBrains.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Our New Newsletter!

Check it out by clicking here!

Be sure to share with your friends and to subscribe by clicking on the "subscribe" link (duh) at the upper left of the newsletter.

Our first issue features ...
  • Kevin on The Journey Home
  • Listening to the Rest of the Story
  • TWINC-TV
  • How Not to Read Like a Fool

Read it today!

Listening to the Rest of the Story



Speaking of Marcus Grodi, host of The Journey Home, Kevin O'Brien has had the privilege of performing Marcus' two novels, How Firm a Foundation and Pillar and Bulwark as audio books.

These novels are two connected stories of conversion - filled with humor and insight, drama and theology, they are well worth a read or a listen. In fact, you can preview Kevin's audio performance here and here, by clicking on the "Play Sample" button on the left below the book's cover graphic.

Kevin spoke with Marcus about these two books ...

____________________________________________________________________

Marcus Grodi is known for hosting the EWTN program The Journey Home, in which he talks to converts to the Catholic Faith.  But as candid as these interviews become, we really never hear "the rest of the story" as radio legend Paul Harvey would say.

In his two novels, How Firm a Foundation and its sequel Pillar and Bulwark, MarcusGrodi  tells "the rest of the story".

The novels tell the tale of Stephen LaPointe, a Congregationalist minister, who finds himself, much against his will, in a crisis of faith that quickly becomes a crisis of identity and vocation – what Bl. John Henry Newman went through, only in a contemporary setting, told more vividly. Filled with a gentle humor and a great many scenes of church and family life that ring very true, these novels show Stephen’s struggle with conversion and the effect it has on the people around him.


“I tried in both books,” Marcus Grodi told me, “to be as absolutely accurate as to what I’ve experienced and to what we know other people go through in the difficult journey of a Protestant minister converting to the Catholic Church.”

And this is what is so stunning and compelling about these tales. The long and laborious inner struggle of Stephen and the characters who begin to follow Stephen’s lead or who react against it, is told with an intimacy that one never quite gets to in the hour-long Journey Home interviews, and not even in Newman’s Apologia. The reaction of Stephen’s wife Sara, for example, and the sometimes funny, sometimes tragic scenes of nasty arguments and near chaos behind closed doors in the minister’s house, are the kinds of all-too-human none-too-Christian moments that we all experience but that we’d never talk about on worldwide television – as are the moments when Stephen’s confusion passes into a kind of suicidal despair.

Thus we are able to see on a more personal level the effect of conversion on a person’s most private places, such as their living rooms, kitchens, motel rooms and in the hidden corners of their hearts.

“These are things that a convert won’t even deal with in an autobiography,” Marcus notes. “But this is something an author can deal with in fiction. For example, the disconnect that grows between Stephen and his wife Sara is very real – for men on this journey the battle is inward very often; it’s a battle maybe no one else in the world knows. But it has tremendous repercussions. And using fiction enables me to tell the whole story.”

Having said all of this, I implore you do not buy and read these books.


I repeat – do not buy and read these books.

Instead, download the mp3’s and listen to the audio versions of them.

I know how good the audio book versions of How Firm a Foundation and Pillar and Bulwark are because I recorded them. And by recorded, I mean performed. I adopt character voices and “play all the parts”, making these audio books much more like radio plays than narrations. In fact, I’ve now recorded thirty-one audio books (visit my website for a full list), one of which won an award as a Best Fiction Audio Book of 2009.

And these novels in particular work very well as audio dramas. So get them and listen! And hear “The Rest of the Story”.

(The full version of this article - "Catholic Fiction and the Rest of the Story" - appeared in the March / April 2012 issue of the St. Austin Review.)

The Journey Home of Kevin O'Brien

Kevin O'Brien, founder of the Theater of the Word Incorporated, will be featured on EWTN's The Journey Home  on Monday, August 6 at 8:00 pm Eastern time (7:00 Central).  Kevin recounts his journey from atheism to the Catholic Church, which began with his experiences on stage; and he and host Marcus Grodi discuss many things, including the relation between Acting and Faith.  He will also be featured on Grodi's radio program Deep in Scripture on EWTN Radio Wednesday, August 8th at 2:00 pm Eastern (1:00 pm Central), discussing a number of Scripture verses, especially as they relate to the spirituality of the arts.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Thus reads our press release.

The fact is, I don't really remember what Marcus and I talked about.  We taped these appearances over a month ago, and he and I had a great time visiting, talking non-stop both on-air and off, for over five hours

At one point I began to tell a story on the radio show and realized I had told the same anecdote to Marcus earlier that day; but I couldn't for the life of me remember if it was in Marcus' office over coffee in the morning, during the taping of The Journey Home before noon, at lunch over Chinese food, or just five minutes prior at about 2:00 pm on the radio.  So I simply shut up and let Marcus change the subject!

Actress Maria Romine, who was touring with me and present for the whole day's fun, assures me that the interviews were very enlightening and entertaining. 

So watch and listen! 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Little Sisters Standing Tall

From a talk given during the Fortnight of Freedom by Sister Constance Carolyn of the Little Sisters of the Poor ...

Maria Romine as St. Jeanne Jugan
in the Theater of the Word play
Little Saint of the Poor
"As more states legalize physician assisted suicide, we fear that someday we may be required to offer it as an alternative to palliative care. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are morally reprehensible to us. Being forced to participate in them would mean the end of our mission in this country ... The Little Sisters of the Poor came to America — and we have stayed here — to care for the neediest elderly of all faiths and cultures. Not because they are Catholic, but because we are. We have never faced religious persecution in this great nation. But as Little Sisters of the Poor we are not strangers to religious intolerance. We were founded in the aftermath of the French Revolution and our Sisters have been forced to leave several countries, including China, Myanmar and Hungary, because of religious intolerance. We pray that the United States will not be added to this list. During this Fortnight of Freedom we pray that God will continue to bless America and our mission to the poorest elderly for many years to come.  Thank you.”

Trying God

I'm in a bad mood this morning.  Why?  Because it's Monday?  Because I'm crabby?  Because I got out of bed?

It's because my wife had me read the daily Mass readings to her.

***

Let me explain, first by talking about the future - next weekend.

At the American Chesterton Society Conference in Reno, Nevada next week I will be talking about Chesterton and Shakespeare, and at one point I will say ...

Whether you like Shakespeare or not (a lot of people don't); whether you like Chesterton or not (all of us, I presume, do); whether you'd rather read a book or watch a movie or just have dinner with your friends, you cannot begin to understand life - you cannot begin to be grateful for life - you cannot begin to approach life - until you learn how to read - how to read a book, how to read a play, how to read a movie, how to read your friends, how to read the Great Book of Being written by and filled by the Incarnate Word of God.

One of the ways religion has become a parody of itself in the modern world is because of a basic and simple illiteracy - an inability to read Scripture and understand the very first thing it's saying.

***

So today's first reading is from Micah 6:1-8.  Now normal people are about as fond of the Old Testament as they are of Shakespeare.  So I'll help.  I'll paraphrase what God is saying through the prophet Micah.  You can read Micah 6:1-8 yourself  (please do), and you'll see that my paraphrase is pretty accurate.  God is saying this ...
OK, if you want to fight, let's fight.  You have a beef against me?  Fine, let's air it.  Let's have a trial - a trial before God and everybody.  I'll present my case against you, and you'll present your case against me, and we'll let the hills and valleys listen in. 

Here come da judge!  The trial begins. 
Present your case - what have I done to you?  How have I victimized you?  Come on, what's your evidence?  ANSWER ME!
Oh, I know.  I remember what I've done to you.  I saved your sorry butt.  I dragged you up out of Egypt and freed you from slavery, I gave you leaders, I gave you saviors, I blessed you, I led you, I gave you the land you now possess.
So how do you plan on thanking me?  With empty sacrifices, rituals of blood that you can check off a list and walk away from?
You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you - only to do right and love goodness and to walk humbly with your God.

That, pretty much, is what God is saying.

***

But how does The Word Among Us comment on this reading?  What is the "Meditation" presented by them on page 43 of their July / August 2012 publication?

This time I won't paraphrase.   I quote verbatim.

When we picture the Last Judg­ment, we often see a stern-faced God in regal robes. Trembling in ter­ror, each of us is dragged into the courtroom in chains to face the pun­ishment we deserve for all the sins we have committed in our lifetime. We despair of ever scraping together enough to pay whatever fine we feel we must owe.

Suddenly the scene shifts! The stern judge smiles softly and removes his robe. He asks you to step up to the bench, put on the robe, and take the gavel. Then the judge steps down and sits in the docket. “What is your accusation against me?” he asks. “How have I disappointed you?”

You, the former prisoner, are speechless. You dimly remem­ber times you have blamed God for things in your life that didn’t go quite the way you expected, but at the moment, you can’t come up with a single convincing complaint. You are in awe over the fact that God would humble himself so deeply.

“No,” you insist, “I’m the guilty one. Any sentence you impose is more than just. In fact, I can’t think of any punishment that could possi­bly make up for all my wrongdoing.”

The judge takes up the papers containing the charges against you and stamps them Paid in Full. Despite your objections, he takes out another stamp. Case Dismissed. Then he puts his arm around your shoul­ders. “Enough of this courtroom drama,” he says. “It wasn’t my idea in the first place. Let’s have a party instead so that we can celebrate your homecoming.”
Gag me with a spoon!

Was this written by Stanford Nutting?

This is about as far away from a legitimate reading of Micah 6:1-6 as you can get.

***

My friends, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  We are the most literate culture in history, and thousands of volumes of the greatest works of literature can be carried in a cell phone in your pocket.  The Bible has never been more accessible to more people at any time ever.

And yet we are stunningly illiterate.

For if you read Micah 6:1-8 and get the drivel that the editors of The Word Among Us get out of it, you simply don't know how to read. 

Are we even trying? 

Yes, we're trying.  Very trying.



Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Unique Faith and Its Unique Founder

Back when half of my friends and enemies were proudly defending Lying as being Just-Fine-with-Jesus, the controversy was given a nasty impetus when Peter Kreeft, of all people, came out rather casually in support of Lying when the Situation Calls for It.  As I pointed out back then, the premise of his mistaken argument was, "We must follow the dictates of our moral common sense", a premise contradicted by the Sermon on the Mount, at the very least.  Our Faith contradicts both our common sense and our moral common sense much of the time.  In fact, you might say that becoming a Christian entails giving up the compromised moral common sense of the Old Adam and learning to live the rightly ordered moral common sense of the New.  Lying when it suits our agendas is something that fits our old moral common sense like an old shoe; being honest even when it hurts us pinches like footwear not yet broken in.

Today Dr. Kreeft has an excellent article out entitled The Uniqueness of Christianity, in which he presents the twelve most common objections to the uniqueness of our Faith and provides twelve pithy rebuttals - the sort of thing that could be very handy the next time you're told, "All religions are the same".

And I'm happy to note that Kreeft reaches a kind of climax in his article with the following ...

The universal sin Saint Paul pinpoints in Romans 1:18 is to suppress the truth. We all sin against the truth we know and refuse it when it condemns us or threatens our self-sufficiency or complacency. We all rationalize. Our duty is plain to us—to be totally honest—and none of us does his duty perfectly.

This is not only quite correct and very well stated, it is in fact the best rebuttal to Kreeft's own confused attempt to rationalize Lying, offered a while back in the early stages of what became a heated internet debate.

We are quite blessed to have a thinker and writer the caliber of Peter Kreeft active in the Catholic Church today.

***

And we're also blessed to have James V. Schall writing today, one of the seven or eight good Jesuits left in the world (not counting the young ones).  He has out what is almost a companion piece to Kreeft, entitled The Point of Christianity

For, while Dr. Kreeft points out the uniqueness of our Faith as a whole, Fr. Schall points out the uniqueness of Christ Himself and how Christ established this Faith. 

And if you take a gander at the comment boxes at Fr. Schall's post, you'll see that he didn't make many readers happy pointing out this uniqueness.  Why?

Because Schall dares to prick our favorite balloon, the balloon we've blown up ourselves, activism.  He dares to suggest that Jesus Christ accomplished what He did not through social engineering, military daring, fomenting revolutions in science or industry - but through piety - through what I would call Piety unto Death.

This should be as self-evident to Christians as is the uniqueness of our Faith, but apparently it's not.  Kreeft is lauded in the combox of his article - and rightly so.  Schall is lambasted in the combox of his.

It seems we don't mind when heresies are attacked that we don't like, such as indifferentism.  But take a swing at a heresy we admire, like activism, and we get our dander up.

***

The fact is, as Peter Kreeft points out, our Faith at its core is unlike any other; and - as James V. Schall points out - we are called to be unlike all others - we are called not to be smart, successful, happy, sexy or wealthy - we are called to be something much more incredible and revolutionary.  We are called to live a unique Faith in a unique way.  We are called to be holy.  We are called to be like Christ.

And that's where the shoe starts to pinch.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sterility City vs. Toddler Town

Sophisticated Entertainment in Branson, Missouri
I've just written a new article for the next issue of the St. Austin Review, entitled "Sterility City vs. Toddler Town."

Here's a teaser, a short excerpt from the article ...

***

For there are two main cultures in the United States. There may be several regional flavors, but there are two main cultures.


There is the Culture of the Family and the Culture of the Self – which is to say the Culture of Procreation and the Culture of Sterility.

The latter you will find in urban centers, on television, and anyplace that caters to what we once used to call the Yuppie mentality. Once you accept and celebrate contraception, you get this culture and all it entails. Divorce sex from marriage, from love and from babies, and you find people living entirely for themselves and thinking nothing of it. Divorce sex from its purpose – its spiritual and biological purpose – and you get singles and couples who live as if all of life is what sex has become, an elaborate and life-long act of onanism.

The despair that creeps in under the radar in such cases produces an appetite for irony and cynicism. In the Sterile City you’ll hear applause for acts of perversion in the bedroom and cheering for acts of depravity on stage. Humor becomes mean and vicious; any act of humility is ridiculed; absurdity is actively cultivated in art and literature; and cruelty co-opts tolerance, the last of the virtues.

But leave the Sterile City. Drive an hour or so out into the country. Find a place where you can’t get rap or jazz or NPR on the car radio, but where it’s all country music and farm reports. Better yet, head to Branson or the Wisconsin Dells or the Black Hills of South Dakota, places where families go on vacation.

There you’ll find the other America, the older culture, the culture of Families – which is to say the culture of kids. In Branson you’ll find mini-golf, all-you-can-eat buffets, country music stage shows with straight-forward humor, and even respect for God and for military veterans. Sure, there’s plenty of tacky souvenir shops, and you might find a motel or two shaped like Noah’s Ark, but it’s the other culture. It’s a culture that is what it is because it appeals to adults who live with and travel with children.
***

For more, subscribe to StAR - the St. Austin Review!


Monday, July 16, 2012

Apocalypse Soon!

First, I must apologize to my friend Joseph Pearce for mischaracterizing his Ink Desk blog post The Resurrection of the God of Physics, which in my haste I read as Joseph's agreement with an article in Crisis that seemed to imply the notion that physics can prove the existence of God. 

Joseph says to me ...
Please let me explain: I did not say that physics can prove the existence of God, what I said was that the assumption that physics could disprove the existence of God was wrong. A re-reading of my original post will exonerate me. You owe me a pint of ale as a suitable penance.
Let me say that I accept my penance, which I will make in a few weeks (God willing) when Joseph and I will see each other at the American Chesterton Society Conference in Reno, Nevada

The problem is that such a penance will only make me eager to sin more! 

***

Which perhaps is what I'm about to do, though in the spirit (as Joseph suggests) of never letting a quarrel get in the way of a good argument. 

For Joseph and I, independent of each other, posted last week on the Ink Desk, our reactions to Fr. George Rutler's stirring article Post-Comfortable Christianity and the Election of 2012 .

Joseph's take on the piece was negative on the whole.  For, while Mr. Pearce admits that he agrees "with Fr. Rutler's overall analysis," he adds that "it is an exaggeration to suggest that the outcome of one election is apocalyptic," - referring to Fr. Rutler's bold claim that
The national election in November, 2012 will either give Christians one last chance to rally, or it will be the last free election in our nation.

By contrast, my take on the article was quite positive, if only because I ate up the great rhetorical sweep of the writing.  Fr. Rutler's piece is very spirited and he lands some real zingers.  But beyond admiring the style, I do tend to agree with the content, even with its apocalyptic shading.

So let me land a zinger or two myself and then explain.

***

First, I disagree with Fr. Rutler that the national election of November 2012 may be the last free election in America. 

The last free election in America has already happened.  There is nothing about our choice in November that can be considered free.

Consider this - we were told ad nauseum by the media that the Republican Primary Debates were an exercise in futility.  Before the first of the year, we were all assured that Romney was the favorite, and that the challenges mounted by Paul, Santorum and Gingrich were doomed to failure.  There were perhaps a dozen or more suits and dresses competing in these debates at the beginning, but we were compelled to ad-Mitt that Mitt had it sewn up.

And now that the media has been proven right, what are our choices in November?

A pro-abortion puppet of big business who orchestrated a socialized health care system on the national level

vs.

A pro-abortion puppet of big business who orchestrated a socialized health care system on the state level

And for those who think that Mr. Romney is really pro-life, take a look (if you can stomach it) at this clip, posted on Mark Shea's site today ...




So in what way will we be participating in a free election come November?

I think it is worth quoting Dale Ahlquist here at length, from his editorial in the current issue of Gilbert.  Dale writes ...

Not many people know that in my former life I was a lobbyist. As a result I know a thing or two about how government works and how politics works. I know for instance that lobbyists write most of the laws in this country. I know that party machines, and not the electorate, choose the candidates. I know that elections are about power and not about the people.

I was sitting in a bar in Washington DC one evening shortly after Bill Clinton won re-election in 1996 (after the Republicans had anointed Bob Dole, perhaps the only person in America who was capable of losing to that very unpopular President.) A fellow lobbyist walked in and announced, “I just found out what’s going to happen at the next election.”

“Okay, let’s hear it,” I said with the right mixture of skepticism and curiosity.

“The Democrats, of course, have chosen Gore. But the Republicans have chosen the governor of Texas. George Bush’s son. His name is George Bush, too.”

“What?!” I exclaimed. “No way! That will never happen. George Bush couldn’t even get re-elected. Who’s going to want to vote for his son?”

“No,” he insisted. “They’ve gone to Bush’s son and offered him a $40 million war chest. He said he’ll do it under one condition: that they get rid of Newt Gingrich.”

And lo and behold, less than two years later, the Speaker of the House, the most powerful Republican in the country was gone. George W. Bush indeed went on to be the Republican nominee and won the general election in a squeaker against Al Gore.
So our elections are free in what meaningful sense???

Well, in one sense they still are free.  But I'll get to that in a minute.   

First let me address the End of All Things.

***

There is the question of the overall apocalyptic tone of Fr. Rutler's article, which I can understand people taking as an over-reaction to the present situation.

For instance, my son Colin commented on my post that spoke favorably of Fr. Rutler's article by more or less saying, "This is all just politics.  Everybody needs to calm down."

And he has a point.  Obama is not the anti-christ.  He's just an opportunistic politician who will vote to allow a doctor to stick a pair of scissors in a born baby's head if that's what the voters want.

In fact, if Obama felt he could get elected by suddenly becoming pro-life and pro-marriage, he would convert on those issues in a heartbeat.  And if he suspected there were such a thing as the Catholic Vote in this country, he would have scrapped the HHS Mandate long ago.  The fact is that the mass of Catholics don't care about contraception and abortion, except insofar as they support both.

Support for Culture of Death issues is popular because the Culture of Death is popular.  In that sense our elections are still quite free, for our politicians, hand-picked though they are, force-fed to us though they are, still play to the grandstand.  Their main concern is power and money, and they'll give us whatever sops we want as long as we give them our votes and power continues to concentrate in the hands not of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public, but in the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Hudge and Gudge

***

But anyway, we know all this. 

We know our country is both free and increasingly not free at the same time. 

We know that we live in the End of the Age, but we've been living in the End of the Age for ages and ages now.

We know that neither Obama nor Romney is the single and ultimate anti-christ; and we know that they both live and breathe the antichristian spirit - for, as St. John tells us, "even now many antichrists have come" - and will continue to.  Listen to Romney in the above video clip defending a sixteen year old getting a judge to grant her an abortion without her parents consent and tell me he's not antichristian.

Anyway, we know all this.

What we do not know, or what we fail to see is the central point of Fr. Rutler's article, which is not simply that our freedom is threatened, and not simply that a Final Battle looms. 

It's that this is indeed becoming the age of the Post-Comfortable Christian.

This is a phrase that my friend Joseph Pearce objects to - because he realizes that Christianity and Comfort do not go together and never have.  "Christianity, fully lived and truly understood, is never comfortable," Joseph observes. He is right there.

But Fr. Rutler knows that too.  To follow Christ we must take up our cross.  And crucifixion is never comfortable.

But Fr. Rutler seems to be saying that, at least in small ways - the loss of a job, financial penalties that ruin our small businesses, social ostracism - we're going to be forced to acknowledge this.

I personally have never liked the phrase Post-Christian era because it implies (as Fr. Rutler says) that something comes after Christ.  Post-Comfortable-Christian era is not a better term, for it's an awkward phrase, and is offensive in itself by implying that there ever was such a thing as a Comfortable Christian Era.

A better phrase for our era perhaps is the Age of New Persecutions.

And did we really think the New Evangelization would be answered by anything else???

Friday, July 13, 2012

It's Hardly Prophecy Anymore

Not long ago James V. Schall SJ wrote a piece that began, "Catholics have little legal future in this country except as a narrow, strictly defined sect."  He went on to suggest that there would come a time in the U.S.A. where we will have an officially tolerated faux-church, and an actual, but underground and persecuted, church-of-the-catacombs, as in China. 

I said at the time, "The true Church will be persecuted and shuttered because of 'hate speech' - which means pointing out the sins of sodomy, fornication, contraception, abortion, the abuse of children, the abuse of the poor, de facto slavery to the state and to corporations, and all the things we're not only tolerating but celebrating in our culture today. The 'official church', the false church, will join in celebrating all these horrors and will make it all go down smoothly by offering services with gay guitar music and self-esteem workshops over coffee and donuts."

Today, in a stunning bit of writing that takes your breath away, Fr. George Rutler brings the prophecy closer to home, as he notes, "The national election in November, 2012 will either give Christians one last chance to rally, or it will be the last free election in our nation.  This can only sound like hyperbole to those who are unaware of what happened to the Slavic lands after World War I and to Western Europe in the 1930’s."

Mere rhetorical panic?  No, for Fr. Rutler explains himself ...

Unless there is a dramatic reversal in the present course of our nation, those who measured their Catholicism by the Catholic schools they attended, will soon find most of those institutions officially pinching incense to the ephemeral genius of their secular leaders, and universities once called Catholic will be no more Catholic than Brown is Baptist or Princeton is Presbyterian. The surrender will not come by a sudden loss of faith in Transubstantiation or doubts about Papal Infallibility. It will happen smoothly and quietly, as the raptures of the Netherworld always hum victims into somnolence, by the cost factor of buying out of government health insurance.

And this will produce, Fr. Rutler predicts, a shake out - or, in his words, "the majority of Catholics with tenuous commitments to the Faith will evaporate, as did the lapsed baptized in North Africa during the oppression of the emperor Diocletian."

He also hits two other home runs in this article - he brings the spirit of St. Paul to bear on the issue, and he deconstructs a phrase that has long irked me, "Post-Christian".

This new period is not “Post-Christian” because nothing comes after Christ.   We can, however, call it “Post-Comfortable Christian.”
Not all bad, you know, for Comfort has not been good for us.

***

Let us thank God for the prophets among us, like Fr. Schall and Fr. Rutler, who are preparing us for this era of Post-Comfortable Christianity - even though it's less prophecy than mere description.

Indeed, when Isaiah pointed out famously, "Behold a virgin shall conceive", his point at the time was not the coming Messiah; his point at the time was, "Before this kid, conceived now, is old enough to know right from wrong, all hell will break loose and we'll be in an era of Post-Comfortable Judaism, to say the least."

In other words, it's right around the corner.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Savior of Science

Joseph Pearce points to an article at Crisis, which asserts that physics can prove that there is a God.  But I would suggest that this is as much of a mistake as asserting that physics can prove that there is no God.

If you've got an hour or so to spend, my performance as Fr. Stanley Jaki at the Portsmouth Institute Conference, here below, might provide a more reasoned assessment of what science can and cannot do when confronted with questions of creation, design and deity.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Mortal Sins of Immortal Souls

A regular non-Catholic reader of this blog asks,

Doesn't "Mortal Sin" as described by the Roman Catholic Church present some issues?
I mean, why wouldn't a Roman Catholic just spend all of his time waiting right outside a confessional booth, lest he commit one and die soon after?

I mean, is it not believable that God might still forgive a man who dies before such an event occurs? How common do you think "Mortal Sin" is?

I appreciate this question, because I end up becoming complacent about Catholic teaching, and I assume everyone understands it - which of course is hardly the case.  So this is a good opportunity for me to flex my apologetic muscles and take a swing at this.

***

The question implies that the reader thinks that one can commit a mortal sin unknowingly or accidentally, which is not the case.  This notion probably comes from the fact that most of the sins we commit are done out of a kind of force of habit.  Take using foul language, for example.  As much as I don't want to swear and cuss, when I get mad enough it's almost impossible for me not to.

But a mortal sin, according to Catholic teaching, requires three things:

1. Grave matter - the act itself must be seriously wrong.

2. Full knowledge that the act is seriously wrong. 

3. Full consent of the will in committing it.

Thus, if you spill your McDonald's coffee in your lap while pulling away from the drive-through lane, and you say a few choice words, these words themselves may (or may not) constitute grave matter for sin; you may (or may not) know that the act is seriously wrong; and if the words just "slip out" without forethought on your part, you certainly do not have full consent of the will when you scream those invectives at the top of your lungs - therefore by that last factor alone, this is not a mortal sin.

But let's take a more common example.

Lots of men are addicted to pornography.  Even most Christians, however, may not know that the Church recognizes that pornography is grave matter for sin - it is a seriously bad thing, for a number of reasons.  And most men these days might not have learned to heed the voice of conscience on this matter - although the element of shame that goes along with the use of porn is always an indication that we know down deep how wrong this stuff is.

Still, if a Christian is not aware that porn is deeply offensive to God and to our neighbor, he by that fact alone can not commit a mortal sin when he uses it. 

And there are many Christians who do indeed know how wrong the use of pornography is, but use it anyway simply because it is as addictive as heroin.  Many men are wracked with guilt over this addiction, but can not easily pull away.  Thus, the force of habit makes the commission of this sin, even when one knows it is seriously wrong, often an act done without full consent of the will.

And so with all these things considered, you can begin to see how hard it is to commit a mortal sin.  You can't just slip into it.  It must be a seriously wrong thing, you must know fully how wrong it is, and you must do it deliberately, without any coercion, including force of habit.

***

Now none of this touches on how the Church has the nerve to come up with this doctrine in the first place.  I will only say that the Church only teaches on faith and morals what Christ gave her to teach, and that this doctrine it is entirely Scriptural. 

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.  1 John 5:16


Here and elsewhere the Church recognizes that there are sins which can exclude a person from heaven.  See also 1 Cor. 6:9 & 10 -

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,  nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

So while we can not earn our salvation, we can (so to speak) earn damnation, or at least forfeit the saving grace that we have been given.

***

As to the question, "I mean, is it not believable that God might still forgive a man who dies before such an event occurs?" - meaning, I think, "Might God forgive a man who has lost the state of grace by committing a mortal sin, before such an event as his sacramental confession occurs?"

Of course.  God's grace and mercy know no bounds.  And the Church teaches that perfect contrition - being sorry for what one has done, both for the offense it gave to God and to neighbor, coupled with a firm resolve not to sin again (though, being weak, we often break such resolutions), and a willingness to make amends for the harm we have caused - that these things constitute "perfect contrition" and elicit the forgiveness of even mortal sin.

That's right - the Church teaches that Confession is not necessary for a sinner to be forgiven of mortal sin.  God is free to operate outside of the Sacraments.  Sacramental Confession is necessary, however, before one who has mortally sinned can be reconciled with the Church and receive communion.  And it is good for many other reasons, but strictly speaking, there are two things that bring forgiveness of sins -

1. The mercy of God through the merits of Christ and His cross

2. The sorrow of a sinner, which prompts the sinner to seek this forgiveness - even if that seeking only takes the form of an interior prayer.

That's it.  The blood of Christ is that powerful.

Those two things propel the Sacrament of Confession and the absolution offered by the priest, who functions as a delegate of God.  Without the blood of Christ and without our own inner sorrow for sin, there can be no forgiveness.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Trading on Chesterton without a Trace of Chesterton

Well, there is such a thing as the Benefit of the Doubt. 

But a PARISH SECRETARY???

The BBC has announced that it will be filming a new TV series based on G. K. Chesterton's famous fictional detective, Father Brown, starring Mark Williams of the Harry Potter films.  And while the linked article notes that for Father Brown "there is always a scope for forgiveness and redemption," nevertheless we learn that the producers don't seem to have faith that Chesterton's writing, Father Brown's character, and the tremendous plots that GKC penned a hundred years ago can hold up for today's audiences. 

So how will they fix this?  What recurring character will they add to this series to make sure they hook the clueless viewer?  Will they add Chesterton's Flambeau, the brilliant French thief turned detective?  Will they add any other Chestertonian inspired figure?

No, they're giving Father Brown a PARISH SECRETARY.

That's right, a PARISH SECRETARY.

For those of you who don't know this about me, I personally feel that most parish secretaries fit somewhere below DRE's and somewhere above Parish Nurses in the Hierarchy of Hell.

Put fiction aside for a minute.  Ask yourself what we know about the typical Parish Secretary.  We know that she runs the parish, she does everything she can to keep people away from their pastor, and she wields her power with a mercilessness akin to Attila the Hun. 

The brave St. Francis eight hundred years ago took his life into his hands and confronted the Sultan in Egypt, risking torture and death for the sake of peace and the Holy Land.  Today would he be brave enough to try to get past the Parish Secretary and the Desk of Durance?  There's a reason St. Peter sits at the Pearly Gates; if the Parish Secretary sat there, nobody would get in.

But that's not my point.  My point is - how good could this BBC series possibly be?

As Dale Ahlquist said to me, "I have a feeling it won’t be based on anything G.K. Chesterton ever wrote."

Hat tip to Tom Leith for pointing this news out to me and for ruining my day.

Oh ... and if you want to see what a TV show based on the actual Father Brown stories looks like, check out this scenes from my EWTN series, in which I play Father Brown and Frank C. Turner plays the prime suspect.


The Unholy Family

Frank Weathers has engaged in an interesting conversation with Timothy Dalrymple here

Dalyrmple is pushing for a "Business Contract with America" from the Republican party that would set a clear timetable for repeal of Obamacare and that would energize the voters in November - a clear Plan.  Weathers replies, "Forget the Plan!  It's the Principles that are important."

I just added a comment, which I think is worth sharing on this blog as a stand-alone post, as it addresses the real issue at hand - an issue echoed by Dale Ahlquist in his editorial of the current issue of Gilbert Magazine entitled "Why I Won't Be Voting for Romney", and echoed more and more on the internet as well as on the street.

My comment -

It seems, unless I’m reading this wrong, that Mr. Dalrymple is arguing that a specific “contract” focuses the attention of the electorate on the specifics behind the principles, such as a timetable for repeal, etc. Mr. Weathers is countering not so much with a rebuttal of that contention, as he is with attacking a foundational assumption in Dalrymple’s approach – the assumption that any of these people can be trusted, or that any of them gives a fig about the good of the U.S.A. Thus Frank says principles matter more than plans, and Timothy says you can’t have one without the other. Clearly they’re both right as far as that goes, but clearly the underlying issue – can we trust these guys? – is not resolved.

I personally think the proof will be in the pudding. Romney will shy away from any “contract” or any bold proposal for repeal of Obamacare, as he and his handlers seem scared of taking such a stance. Why would this be? Any sane American knows that this is the issue to win or lose on in the November elections. But then again, any sane American knew that Bob Dole and John McCain were, to take just two examples, the last people in the world who would be elected president. Why is there this disconnect between the voters and the parties? Why do paid campaign advisers not see the obvious strategy in front of their eyes – a strategy that you’d hear in any bar room in America?

The only answer is that there’s more at steak here than the interests of the American people. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will repeal Obamacare; not because both parties recognize the need for some form of universal health care, but because big insurance and big pharm are running the show, not the voters – except in so far that the voters want something for nothing.

This is the Unholy Family – Big Business Daddy married to Big Government Mommy, raising a spoiled electorate Brat they refuse to wean from a teat that gives make-believe milk.



Friday, July 6, 2012

The Problem and the Solution

"I know what your problem is. In fact, I know what everyone’s problem is. Furthermore, I not only know the problem, I have the solution."
So begins Father Dwight Longenecker in a very interesting blog post in which he diagnoses the problem at the foundational level of our hearts - lack of love.

Fr. Dwight continues ...

"I am convinced that at the heart of all our problems is an empty or a broken heart. What I mean is that there is a 'love lack.' Our problems stem from the fact that we do not have enough love–total, unconditional, over whelming love. Somewhere along the line an ache like a hunger pang developed in our heart and we sensed way down deep that we were not loved, or at least we were not loved enough. From that perceived lack of love we developed our problem."
Feel that nagging Love Lack?  Try some drugs, or booze, or sex, or power, or money, or even the applause and accolades of show biz.

In Fr. Dwight's comment boxes, his readers expand on his insight.  Someone calling herself Melancholy Bride remarks ...

"Lack of love really does cause all the problems you described, and because of it, we can’t have a relationship with one of [my husband's] brothers, who is always trying to seek attention and show-off at our expense, which he would not have to do if his parents would just unconditionally love them all."
And then there are these great lines in the song "Roxie" from Chicago

Mmmm, I'm a star!



And the audience loves me!


And I love them


And they love me for loving them


And I love them for loving me


And we love each other


And that's because none of us


Got enough love in our childhoods


And that's showbiz


Kid

But of course, like all the songs in Chicago, this one is dripping with irony.  Are we simply messed up because we did not get enough love in our childhoods?  Father Dwight continues ...

"[A woman in counselling with me] explained how [her parents] did not love her, how they did not express their love and confidence and how deprived she was. But I knew her parents. They were good folks. They were good parents. They were kind and generous and loved her very much. So the problem was not necessarily lack of love, but perceived lack of love."


But think about this.  Either we're messed up because we mistakenly believe we did not and do not get enough love, or our perception is accurate and the people in our lives don't love us the way they should.

Is the cure, then, what Fr. Dwight suggests - to pray to the Divine Mercy of Christ?  Well, certainly, that's part of the cure.

But if we're either mistaken about a perceived lack of love, or truly starving from a real lack of love, the cure is both prayer AND doing the only other thing that will make a difference. 

We must love.  We must stop worrying about being loved and simply start loving.

If we do what Our Lord told us, if we "love one another as I have loved you", then we can begin to fix the problem, whether the problem is imaginary or real.  We can't control how others love us, but we can control how we love them - and that stops the cycle - the cycle of fear, abandonment, lack of love, and inappropriate compensation sought through the pleasures of sin. 

***

This ties in with yesterday's post on Magnanimity.  Messed up as each of us is, we can never change the fact that life may continue to hand us the short end of the stick - but our job is to grab the stick and stick with it.

Elsewhere, Frank Weathers posts a reflection on G. K. Chesterton's poem "Fantasia".  The poem bears reprinting here, along with a bit of my own explication, for it ties in with The Problem of Love and Its Solution.  Chesterton writes (with my comments in brackets) ...

The happy men that lose their heads


They find their heads in heaven

As cherub heads with cherub wings,

And cherub haloes even:

Out of the infinite evening lands

Along the sunset sea,

Leaving the purple fields behind,

The cherub wings beat down the wind

Back to the groping body and blind

As the bird back to the tree.

[Chesterton's poems are not easy.  The key to this one is to realize he's playing on the phrase "to lose one's head".  How does a person "lose his head"?  To get so enthused about something that reason and restraint are left behind.  And yet, in this first stanza, G. K. affirms that these are "happy men" who lose their heads, for they "find their heads in heaven", their lost heads becoming like the heads of small angels (cherubs), these lost heads flying on angel's wings back to the body, which, headless, is groping and blind.  In other words, though "losing one's head" is a rash thing, it is a blessed thing; and as one must lose one's life to find it, so one must lose one's head to gain it back with wings - with a touch of the divine.]


Whether the plumes be passion-red

For him that truly dies

By headsmen’s blade or battle-axe,

Or blue like butterflies,

For him that lost it in a lane

In April’s fits and starts,

His folly is forgiven then:

But higher, and far beyond our ken,

Is the healing of the unhappy men,

The men that lost their hearts.

[Now Gilbert plays upon two different ways to "lose one's head" - either by decapitation: "by headsmen's blade or battle-axe" for one that "truly dies" or is literally killed; or by a flight of fancy: not in the spilling of red blood, but in the blue of butterflies or in a vision of blue skies one might chance upon in a lane "in April's fits and starts".  His point is that whether we lose our heads in battle or in an imprudent flight of fancy, our "folly is forgiven then".  But more mysterious than losing one's head is losing one's heart - and how does one heal from that?]


Is there not pardon for the brave

And broad release above,

Who lost their heads for liberty

Or lost their hearts for love?

Or is the wise man wise indeed

Whom larger thoughts keep whole?

Who sees life equal like a chart,

Made strong to play the saner part,

And keep his head and keep his heart,

And only lose his soul.

[Now the zinger stanza.  There is pardon and indeed blessing for those who lose their heads in battle or who lose their hearts for love - but the seemingly "wise man" who is really not wise "indeed", the man who plays it safe, the pusillanimous as opposed to the magnanimous man - it is he who "sees life equal like a chart" and who keeps his head and keeps his heart - only to lose his soul.]

***

The solution to the Problem of Love is to love - even if that love means the Magnanimous Folly of losing one's head and losing one's heart - for in losing them both we find them again in the great mystery and paradox that is the Kingdom.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Forgotten Virtue

I once wrote that Hope is more despised than Chastity, that if you're not cynical and disdainful, you're not hip and modern.

But there's a virtue that seems even less in vogue than Hope, and that is Magnanimity.

What is Magnanimity?  Well, even Wikipedia gets it right ...

Magnanimity (derived from the Latin roots magn- great, and animus, mind, literally means greatly generous [my note: no, its etymology means great of spirit or great of soul]) is the virtue of being great of mind and heart. It encompasses, usually, a refusal to be petty, a willingness to face danger, and actions for noble purposes. Its antithesis is pusillanimity.

Now pusillanimity is what I would call low-balling, or flying under the radar.  It's living your life as many men (and women) do, and as I did before my conversion, seeking cheap casual sex, easy money without hard work, comfort, and the means to satisfy your desires without getting noticed and without getting hurt.  It is a kind of cowardice of heart; while magnanimity is a kind of expansion of heart.

But think about it.  Who do we know in the spiritual life who is not more or less pusillanimous?  Lots of folks are bold and courageous when it comes to business ventures and other worldly endeavors, but how many Catholics do you know who are willing to risk their own private pettiness, their own pigeon-holed existence for something great?  How many Catholics really heed the Holy Spirit and set out into deep waters?  Do we all not typically grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30) rather than heed the Spirit?

If there's anything I've seen over and over again, especially with young people, it's this desire to play it safe, to avoid big risk and big failure, to keep an uncircumcised heart, to be small-of-mind and small-of-spirit in a toy theater life they build and control.  This is true for Christians and agnostics alike, as a rule. 

And even Wikipedia makes the connection to C. S. Lewis, who was more perceptive about this subject than anything else.  Wikipedia writes ...

C. S. Lewis, in his book The Abolition of Man, refers to the chest of man as the seat of magnanimity, or sentiment, with this magnanimity working as the liaison between visceral and cerebral man. Lewis asserts that in his time, the denial of the emotions that are found in the eternal, the sublime, that which is humbling as an objective reality, had led to "men without chests".
"In his time" and ours, Wikipedia.

***

I had a nominally Catholic actress who worked for me who was undeniably called to teach drama.  Of all things in her life, teaching drama to young people moved her, excited her, and yes, disturbed her.  That's the thing about our vocations - they are always a call out of our pusillanimous "comfort zones".  When you love something, when God has made you to do something and you get a whiff of your true identity in Him, when you are drawn to something that moves you, you approach the chasm of magnanimity - you are called to step forth in fear and faith. 

But this otherwise sweet young lady refused to get certified in drama and simply worked as a substitute teacher or as a volunteer assistant director for the school plays.  She found what she loved and she put it in a box on a shelf where it was safe.

There's a Kafka parable where a pusillanimous soul waits patiently before his destiny, represented by a giant door he is told by a gatekeeper that he must not approach.  And he waits patiently for years.  Then, as a dying old fool, half deaf, he is told by the gatekeeper, who bellows in his ear, "This door was meant only for you.  You have wasted your life by failing to go through it."

Likewise, there's the rather chilling Henry James story "The Beast in the Jungle" about a cowardly character who lives his whole life afraid of the very things he is most drawn to, including a woman who clearly loves him and whom he never seriously engages.

And there's the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, where the master scolds and condemns the investor who played it safe and buried his treasure in a hole.  I write more about that elsewhere.

***

All in all, playing it safe in matters of the Spirit is worse than tragic - it is pathetic.

May we all strive to be magnanimous - Great of Spirit - for the Lord.


"Catholic Answers" gives the Wrong Answer

Jeff Mirus has written a rather balanced and quite conditional defense of Lying for "Catholic Answers" that's worth the read.  He gets the issue wrong, on the whole, but does so fairly and without animus.  And that's a step in the right direction on this issue.

A major mistake is when Mirus misleads his readers when he undercuts the moral authority of the Cathechism, but other than that he quite rightly recognizes that our attempts to justify lying by using the extreme scenario, "Is is right to lie to Nazis who are looking for the Jews you're harboring?" is mere pedantics and a cover for our own moral weakness.

Beyond that, there's one or two other errors in Mirus' piece that I'd like to deal with.

From the article: "In other words, we are obliged to tell the truth, and we are also obliged to keep secrets, but there are times when the only way to keep a secret is to lie." This is blatantly false. There is never a time when the only way to keep a secret is to lie.  Silence is always an option.  See Jesus before the High Priest, Who remained silent until pressed, and when forced to speak told the Truth, knowing it would cost Him torture, suffering and death.


If the Nazis show up and say, "Are you harboring Jews?" and you lie and say "No," do you really think they'll pass on without searching your house? If you remain silent or say (truthfully), "You have no business knowing that," they will perhaps shoot you and you will die a martyr, and they will perhaps find the Jews you're hiding (which they would have anyway), but which is more important, life and safety or Fidelity to the Truth? Fidelity is Faith and the Truth is God. Fidelity to the Truth is simply demonstrating Faith in God. Which is more important, keeping our lives secure or being faithful to the God Who made us, even in the face of suffering and death?

Now, when Mirus argues that lying to the Nazis is choosing the "lesser of two evils", his argument is confused, for refusing to lie to the Nazis is in no way a cooperation with the evil they intend to commit. "Not lying" is not the "greater of two evils".  But with this argument, he is at least admitting that telling a lie is an "evil" (a sin, though perhaps a minor one), and an "evil" that we do deliberately to avoid (in this scenario) a very bad consequence. This is exactly what happens. And in practical situations, almost everyone would do this without compunction. And, indeed, I'm certain God would forgive such a minor evil - he forgives all evils when we repent of them and turn to Him - particularly one committed to save the life of another.

But in practise we are never forced to choose the "lesser of two evils".  We can always opt to choose the good, even though this choice brings suffering and the cross along with it.

It may be that only a saint could be utterly truthful at all times - but the 8th Commandment does not simply apply to perjury (as Mirus would have it), it has vast implications that Christians have always recognized. We are called to bear witness to God. And God is Truth. And you simply cannot bear witness to Truth by means of a lie.


The problem is when this Nazi scenario is used to justify other forms of lying. Pretending to be a pimp in order to ensnare someone on a sting video is not the lesser of two evils. It is a choice that one is not forced to make, and it brings no glory to God, for it conveys the attitude, "I'll do whatever it takes, for the God I serve is not Truth but victory in a given situation."