Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Love and War and Gonads

My last two posts, The Rape of Reason and Love and War , are connected.

In the first, I point out the appalling hate-speech of an otherwise intelligent atheist reader of this blog, who asserts that God "raped a Jewish virgin", and who betrays his anti-Semitism by complaining that God would even mess with those backwards Jews, rather than revealing Himself to the much-more-sophisticated Chinese (who today show their superiority to any in the West by their enforced abortion, their abandonment of girl babies, their totalitarianism, and their imprisonment of political dissidents).

In the second, I try to help a struggling reader of Scripture see that only one thing can square the Wrath of God in the Old Testament with the Mercy of God that takes human form in the New - and that is the unity of Love - not the emasculated love of our suburban parishes, but the consuming fire of the God Who is love, evident all about us, and expressed throughout the Bible from start to finish, a disturbing love, a love that will not let us rest in our sins and in our superficial human parodies of Divine Love.

The two posts come together in this quote by Robert Carballo, which Joseph Pearce passed along on the Ink Desk, the context of which you can read on The Christian Shakespeare site, where Carballo makes his case in full. 

Carballo points to a modernist critic of Shakespeare, who takes time in an article on The Merchant of Venice to spew some hate and spread some propaganda and lies about the Catholic Church.  Would this critic have dared similarly to criticize Islam? Carballo asks.

No, he reserves his bullying for the Christians, for he knows that what now obtains is, in his words, "the transformation of Christianity from its militant, combative, baptize-or-be-damned phase ... to its much gentler, attenuated, and more pacific institution of today." In other words, a Christianity which is easy to defame and bully through lies, half-truths, historical distortions and purely subjective interpretations---and a Christianity that largely lacks courageous leaders but has plenty of cowardly followers who have been domesticated by a quasi-heretical, pacifist, and distorted preaching of the theological virtue of charity.


Indeed.

We have been domesticated (I would say emasculated) by "a quasi-heretical, pacifist, and distorted preaching of the theological virtue of charity."

In other words, of love.

If our love were more like the love of God - neither pacifist (opposed to fighting under any circumstances) nor accommodating of sin (God will either destroy sinners, or more typically let them destroy themselves, as I point out here), but truly charitable, atheists would have neither the courage to hate our God, hate His people (the Jews) and claim that God raped one, nor perhaps would they have the desire to do so.

It may be that their contempt of us stems from our own lack of love - a love with gonads, a love that speaks the truth and fights for what it loves.

The Muslims, at least, have that advantage over us.  Which is why my atheist reader would not dare to blaspheme against Mohamed or Allah - but will think it's cute to knock the Virgin Mary and the God he claims raped her. 

Sadly, we both lack real courage - Christians and their critics. 

Because we both lack real love.



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Love and War

Joseph Pearce writes about love in this perceptive post , which rightly and gently critiques the great C. S. Lewis.  Joseph does so by asserting the essential unity of Love, thereby echoing Pope Benedict, who wrote an entire encyclical on the unity of love, the unity even of Eros and Agape.  And while I've written on the unity of love at length, today I'm going one step further.  Today I'm pointing out that not only is Love, like God, One - with Eros, Agape, Philia, etc. being many aspects or elements of this unity of love ("elements" or "aspects", I'd say, rather than "accidents", as Joseph claims) - but I'm going to assert that Love can also be expressed in fighting, even in violence.

How?  Well, Chesterton said it better than I, but I'll get to Chesterton in a minute. 

First, let me talk about God.

***

My correspondence with a regular blog reader continues.  Earlier, he had asserted a dichotomy between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God, which I answered here

Now he counters with more specific examples - God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah because of sin, but Jesus eats with sinners in an effort to save them.  The God of the Old Testament wipes out whole cities (and everybody but Noah and his family at one point) but the only violence Jesus does while on earth is turn over the tables of the moneychangers.  I would go further.  James and John ask if they should call down fire on unwelcoming Samaritans, but Jesus rebukes them. 

This is certainly evidence of two Gods not one, isn't it?  Yahweh the brute and Jesus the nice guy - right?

On the contrary,

God wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. - 1 Tim. 2:4  (New Testament)
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!  - Ezekiel 33:11  (Old Testament)

The residents of Sodom and Gomorrah were inveterate sinners.  They wanted to anally rape two angels, for example.  Abraham pleads for Sodom in Genesis 18, and it's clear that God is more than willing to spare the entire city if it contains even one good man. 

But it does not.

Now, if God wanted our destruction and not our repentance, He would not say what He says in First Timothy and in Ezekiel above.  He would also not say what He says and do what He does throughout Scripture, from start to finish.  The entire story is the story of God offering mercy and love to His people and of His people rejecting it and rejecting Him.  The entire story is the story of His bringing good out of our evil; of His loving us even when we don't love Him.  That's the theme of both Testaments - God's love overcoming our sins.

But this love is not a love at the superficial level of being nice.  It's not a love that turns a blind eye.  It is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).  It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Heb. 10:31) not because of His narrow minded judgmental anger, but because of His love.

The problem is that love has been emasculated these days.  Love is a eunuch.  Love is safe, like "safe sex" only more lame and more sterile.  We no longer believe that fighting for something is an indication of loving it.  We no longer understand Bishop Sheen's remark (which I quoted over the weekend) ...

"Christian love bears evil but it does not tolerate it. It does penance for the sins of others, but it is not broadminded about sin. Real love involves real hatred: whoever has lost the power of moral indignation and the urge to drive the sellers from the temples has also lost a living, fervent love of truth."
"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him," G. K. Chesterton observes. 

Chesterton elaborates ...

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

Look at the Bible through the lens of the Unity of Love, and it will begin to make some sense.

***

In passing, the reader asks me, a la Euthyphro, if a thing is good because God wills it or if God wills it because it is good.  God wills it because it is good, but a thing is good only is so far as it resembles God, Who is the source of all goodness.


And of all love.

The Rape of Reason

First, readers, please indulge me in one little thing.  I am allowing anonymous comments on these posts because that makes it easier for readers to comment.

But I'd like anonymous commenters to sign their names, or at least use a consistent alias, for their comments.

If you don't, it crowds the comboxes with as many as ten or twelves different "anonymouses", making it tough for others to respond - not knowing which anonymous is saying what.

And for another thing, it prevents what happened in the combox of my most recent post.

For in that case, the First Anonymous made some intelligent observations, which went like this ...

To describe Obama as left-wing is pushing the truth. He may be personally, but his policies have been anything but liberal. To refer to Mitt Romney as left-wing is so delusional as to not merit a response. He wants to cut taxes on the rich, cut earned benefits from government, continue the conservative health care plan known as "Obamacare", switch our socialized and most popular health care plan (medicare) to a private voucher system, has chosen an Ayn Rand disciple as his VP, is using some of the most vile racism I've ever seen from a candidate (repeatedly lying and saying that Obama got rid of the work requirement for welfare and bringing up the birther issue), and vows to run government "like a business", which any respected economist will tell you is insanity.
 
Now I'd be happy to address these reasonable objections, except for one little thing.

Anonymous #1 could not help himself or herself, and went on to add the next paragraph ...


 I can't comprehend how badly educated you have to be to think Romney is a liberal. He is a libertarian on abortion, but that's about it. I guess you have to be delusional enough to believe that god watched humans suffering miserably for 98,000 years without doing anything before finally deciding to intervene in the most illiterate part of the world via human sacrifice of himself to redeem the human race. He didn't appear to the Chinese, who can read and record history properly. No, he raped a Jewish virgin and then nailed himself to a cross and that means that we're saved. Yeah, you'd have to be about that stupid.
 
And so I respond ...


Anonymous # 1, I was with you until "He raped a Jewish virgin". For one thing, she consented. For another, there was no sex act. For a third, you've revealed yourself to be a hateful bigot.

I'd ban you from future comments if I knew who you were, but you're too much of a coward to sign your own name to your vile hate speech.

I'm more than happy to engage atheists in discussion. I was an atheist myself for many years. I'm even more than happy to point out how Romney is taking "conservatism" more and more to the left, which you can't see - though the other political things you say ring true.

But intelligent and valuable as your comment is, when you cross the line by claiming Mary was raped, you crossed the line.

So either man up, tell us who you are and apologize, or acknowledge by your cowering anonymity that you're just a bigot with enough common sense to make your bigotry all the more despicable.



You see, A1 may be confusing the New Testament with his high school course on Greek Mythology.  For the Greek gods raped.  They raped physically and frequently.  And the human victims of their rapes suffered for it.

A1 is hoping to point out distinctions between liberals and conservatives, and he can't see distinctions between Greek gods who rape and the Christian God who condemns rape.  The fact that he gets his antipathy for rape from Christian teaching and tradition does not occur to him. 

So my suggestion is this ... tell us who you are, Anonymous # 1, and I'll be happy to address how Romney and Obama are both wrong and how they're both working to destroy freedom in this country and how politics has become an exercise in insanity.

Meanwhile, please sign your comments, people, even with made-up names.  Hiding behind an alias is at least more brave than hiding behind your own ignorance and anger.

***

Meanwhile, Anonymous #1, I have one question for you  (other than what's your name) - are you a racist?  You seem upset that God became a Jew and not a China man.  It may be politically correct to knock the Virgin Mary, but it's not really a good idea to knock the Jews.  So how anti-Semitic are you, then?

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Keyes to this Election

In this stirring article, Alan Keyes demonstrates that not all conservatives are rolling over and playing dead when it comes to the Next President of the United States, Mitt Romney.  Keyes gets many things right in this article, including his description of how the Party is trying to marginalize those who refuse to drunk the Kool-Aide and support a candidate who is only distinguishable from his opponent in his being more dishonest.

Some highlights ...

... the term "conservative" gets progressively (pun intended) redefined to encompass more and more of the features of socialism. What is more important, those who articulate and insist upon approaches that actually correspond to conservative principles and institutional goals (like respecting unalienable rights, preserving the natural family, encouraging morally responsible individual entrepreneurship, and competitive free enterprise) are put in the false position of being unrealistic "purists" and rigid opponents of "the possible."
 
***


 On both sides of the sham election currently being staged, truth is the uninvited guest. The racial partisans say I should not tell the truth about Obama's allegiance to the cult of death: his advocacy of child murder; his suppression of the family's call to procreation; his abandonment of God's precious gift of freedom in order to enslave humankind to the outcomes of "history," however inconsiderate, vile and inhumane.

The GOP partisans say that I should not tell the truth about Mitt Romney's worship of ambition and financial gain, which led him, too, to sacrifice conscience and unalienable right in order to feed the depraved appetites of those he thought necessary to his advancement. I should not tell the truth about his deed-conflicted stands; his careless healthcare packages tainted with the blood of murdered innocence; his socialist "bipartisan" schemes tainted by the sacrifice of conscientious liberty.



Saturday, August 25, 2012

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit - the one unforgivable sin.  What is it?

I suggest that blasphemy against the Spirit might be similar to God “hardening Pharaoh’s heart” – which was not so much God turning Pharaoh bad as God allowing Pharaoh to settle in the badness he had chosen.

I think a man who makes a positive choice to affirm evil in his life and to cease struggling against it, to opt for it as his greatest good, is committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and so we see the results – not only his being unforgiven, but being unforgivable because he no longer desires to be forgiven.

Final impenitence is the fruit of this attitude.  The unforgiven state is the state of the calloused soul that results from this blasphemy - this blasphemy being a lifelong act, not an unguarded moment of anger or frustration. 

Think of certain sinners whose sins have become ontologically a part of who they are - inveterate pedophiles, sodomites devoted to the lifestyle, serial adulterers.  Yes, repentance may be possible in any of the above cases, unless the evil the sinner serves has become his god - his greatest good; unless he begins to live for that and to sell his soul to it.  It is then, when we have said to the Goodness of God, "To hell with you," that we have kicked God's Spirit out of our lives, and in His mercy He allows us to live and die unforgivable and unforgiven - in other words, to get what we want.

When you think about it, the psychology of Scripture is far more insightful than the pop psychology of our day.

And may the Holy Spirit keep us from blasphemy against Him.

Love and the Cleansing

Someone posted this quote by Bishop Sheen on Facebook today - "Christian love bears evil but it does not tolerate it. It does penance for the sins of others, but it is not broadminded about sin. Real love involves real hatred: whoever has lost the power of moral indignation and the urge to drive the sellers from the temples has also lost a living, fervent love of truth."

The sellers do have a way of taking over our temples.   May we continue to have the love to chase them out, even if such a chasing occasionally involves a tactical retreat.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Good God / Bad God

A regular blog reader writes to me, disturbed by what he takes to be a disunity in Scripture.  It seems to him that the God of the Old Testament is judgmental and wrathful, and that the God of the New Testament is merciful and forgiving - they are two Gods, not one.  God the Father bad cop; God the Son good cop.  (Worse than that, my reader has the impression that Jesus was "nice" - as if being "nice" is something Jesus ever really was.)

But this dichotomy is fundamentally wrong, and it's the kind of mistake you can fall into only if you have a cursory familiarity with Scripture, and if you believe the shorthand notes of others who have only a cursory familiarity with Scripture.

Take the Old Testament book of Isaiah alone, as an example at random.  Every time God speaks through Isaiah and proclaims woes and punishments for His people, He counters with hope and forgiveness. Mercy is not peculiar to the New Testament.  I can think of no example of any OT book that reveals only God's wrath and punishment without revealing a more profound measure of blessing and contentment at the other end of the suffering.  A peculiar and profound and ineffable joy always follows the expression of God's "anger", given to those who turn back to Him and have faith in Him - even after they've abandoned Him and betrayed Him.

Beyond that, there are the odd mysteries left hanging and tantalizing in the OT, and fulfilled only fully in the NT.  Melchizedek is one - a figure utterly baffling in the Old Testament, the point of his identity only fully understood by the writers of the New Testament.  At times it's as if a mystery writer places clues that he later reveals in his solution one or two thousand years after he's placed them - as if one writer sets the stage in Act One, which he writes in the second millennium BC, and writes the only fitting conclusion in Act Two, which he writes in the first millennium AD

But reading the Bible ain't easy.  It must always be done with prayer and patience, and with the best study guides you can find.  To that end I heartily recommend the mp3 audio Bible studies of St. Irenaeus Ministries, which can be download here.

To fail to read the written Word of God in our midst is simply to ignore the incarnate Word of God in our midst.

Invisible Sky-Anything - Oh, and Also Bad Music

Well, a healthy debate is raging below between atheists and theists, and I admit I have only so far read the most recent few comments.  I'll work through the others as I have time.

The Heathen Rages On left a thoughtful comment in which he or she objected to my saying that an atheist "worships" anything, and I think Rage-On has a point.  So I clarified thus ...

Dear Raging Heathen,


Asserting that a metaphysical concept, in this case "randomness" or "chance", controls everything and that our lives should be in accord with this universal metaphysical principal is a creed.  It may be an atheist creed, but it is a creed. 


If you object to my saying you "worship" this metaphysical hypothesis, which itself is not physical, but whose "effects" you can observe in the physical realm, then I will gladly recant and say you don't "worship" it.


But it is a creed you live by
.
As is, for me, the Invisible Sky-Man.  He too is a metaphysical assertion, known only indirectly by His effects.  I think the effects demonstrate teleology, for one thing, more than a lack thereof, and this is one of the reasons I live my life by my creed and you live your life by yours.


Even if we simply call our creeds "philosophies", we cannot deny that our philosophies dictate how we live; and both are projections of a metaphysical principal onto a universal stage.


This does not touch on who is right or who is wrong; but it does take away the charge that an Invisible Sky-Anything is by its nature ridiculous.  All assertions of a universal truth are Universal Sky-Assertions; there's no way around that for either the atheist or the theist.



But I want to throw a quick word out to Joey Higgins, whose conscience I have disturbed by my oft-repeated off-handed comment about "gay guitar music" at Mass, by which I mean the Haugen / Haas / Schute stuff. 

Joey, some of that music can be performed with great devotion and with no attention being drawn to the performer; but some of that music is bad in and of itself and is not appropriate for Mass.  None of it is as good as the music in Godspell, for example.  And most of it conveys the subliminal message - God is Unreal and We can Make of Him What We Wish, and What We Wish is a Mushy Comfy Fuzzy Shape-Shifting Amoeba. 

But I don't want you to doubt your service to God at Life Teen.  I suggest you compare and contrast liturgical music by seeking out a Mass that has a schola and features Chant - unfortunately that means probably a Latin Mass.  But even so, the difference between chant and Haugen / Haas / Schute is remarkable.  It is a difference in kind and not in degree.  And read that Vatican II document on Sacred Music, which says that chant must be given preference of place at the Liturgy.  This is not to say charismatic or Life Teen Masses are bad (though Life Teen's founder was quite bad); I am not a member of the Liturgical Police, except when it comes to Liturgical Music, which must be reverent, and when it's not it degrades the Sacrifice, and when it's not can become frankly sacrilegious.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Invisible Sky-Dice

I wrote early this morning about an atheist commenter's use of the really cool phrase Invisible Sky-Man.  That's such a poetic phrase, and it really hits the spot.

It makes the believer pause for just a moment and say, "Wait a minute.  My God is invisible and He does dwell in heaven, which is kind of like the sky, and He very well may be simply a projection of my own humanity onto the blank canvas of the cosmos.  Invisible Sky-Man is apt indeed.  What I have been thinking all these years?!"

But the only reason this phrase works at all is how far we've fallen from reasoned discourse to mere sloganeering.

Take the case of other slogans - Right to Work, for example, is a catchy slogan used as a union-busting tool.  A right to work must be a good thing - and if unions oppose this basic human dignity, unions must be a cause of great evil. 

Right to Die is even better.  It glosses over all the ugly details of killing those who have no say in the matter - like Terry Schiavo - and it asserts at the very least a right to kill one's self, which is surely a "right", but not one most people would endorse.  For instance, if instead of saying Right to Die, the phrase was, Go Ahead and Jump Off a Bridge and Kill Yourself and Thereby Exercise a Basic Human Liberty, the "right to die" would have fewer supporters.

So with Invisible Sky-Man. 

I pointed out in my previous post that the very word "invisible" is telling, for it implies that things that cannot be seen are less real than things that can.  The microscopic cause of the Black Death (namely Yersinia pestis) could not be seen when it decimated Europe in the Middle Ages, but of course it was quite real despite being invisible to the naked eye.  Even today, things like energy and force cannot be seen.  Gravity cannot be seen.  Love cannot be seen.  Thinking cannot be seen (and for some people cannot be done).  So invisible as a derogatory slap in the face is a rather weak one.

But in this post I want my readers to try on a new phrase I invented, which is actually a pretty good one. 

Invisible Sky-Dice.

The next time an atheist mocks you for believing in an Invisible Sky-Man, you could either point out that He became visible and walked among us and everything has been a wee bit different since then; or you could be just as nasty and say, "Well at least I don't believe in Invisible Sky-Dice."  You could go on - "A giant pair of Invisible Sky-Dice dangling from the galactic rear-view mirror, fuzzy and tacky and forcing me and my loved ones into an existential game of Cosmic Craps." 

And then you could explain.  "You accuse me of worshipping an unseen anthropomorphic projection that I call God.  Perhaps I do.  But what do you worship?  You worship something even more outlandish.  You worship mere Chance, as if the random bumping together of bits of matter had any kind of meaning.  Indeed, in your more lucid moments, you acknowledge that meaning is an illusion, the kind of thing weaker people project onto the heavens in their sad and pathetic false hope.  And you admit that Chance can have neither meaning nor design.  In fact, Chance by definition is the absence of intention; it is something that happens without anybody or anything making it happen; it is quite literally nothing.  Chance is not an agent, Chance can do nothing.  Chance is our word for things that just happen, either with a cause that we cannot determine, or with no cause at all.  Dice are the perfect symbol for this.  And in your world, the dice rule.  In your world, everything is random and nothing is intentional and all pattern and meaning we perceive is but our own hunger for pattern and meaning thrust onto a universe that includes neither.  I grant you your Chance, but I point out that your Chance is just as invisible as my Sky-Man.  The role of the dice might demonstrate something random called Chance, but this thing you call Chance cannot be seen; its effects can, but it cannot - kind of like God.  Likewise, all of biology from the point of view of a metaphysician might demonstrate design, but the design itself cannot be seen.  Like love or gravity it's not a "thing", it's not a "material" thing; gravitons might be material, but the force they convey is not material.  Love is utterly immaterial, though its effects are visible all around you.  And Chance is the same.  You worship Chance - an invisible pair of dice.  You enthrone this Chance above all creation.  You quite literally bow down before Invisible Sky-Dice."

And then you could go on to add the part about tacky and fuzzy and Cosmic Craps.

This is, of course, no direct argument for God, but it is at least the unpacking of a slogan that more aptly fits the materialist-atheist 20-year-old at Starbuck's, who's hopping on the wi fi as he sips his five-dollar latte, hoping to denude you of your medieval illusions. 

And it goes by the principle of another slogan - What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

My Crude Materialism Trumps Your Invisible Sky-Man

A few posts ago, Anonymous left an entertaining comment which he concluded by encouraging me, a former strident atheist, to give up belief in my "invisible sky-man", a delusion that's keeping me from complete happiness (I wondered what was doing that).

I like that phrase "invisible sky-man".  I would have used it myself when I was an atheist, if it had been around in those days.

But the more I thought about that phrase, the more telling it became.

And so I replied to my well-meaning atheist friend ...

The term "invisible sky-man" implies that things that are not visible are risible; and that a sky-man is an anthropomorphic projection.

The latter may be the case, but the former?

Are atheists really just materialists these days? Do they really think that the only things that exist are visible things? Did germs not exist before the microscope allowed us to see them? Is love an illusion? It's certainly not visible.

The answer, at least for the atheists I know, is yes, they are frank materialists.

Atheism has a kind of lonely nobility to it. Materialism is nothing but a dressed-up turd. Which can be proven simply by seeing that if only matter exists, and if invisible things are non-existent, then it's pointless to argue about anything.

So, Anonymous, man up and chuck your materialism, if that's what you indeed believe. Then I'll be convinced you're really interested in the truth. 
Until then, there is no truth, only matter in motion; consciousness is only an epiphenomenon of chemistry and life is utterly meaningless. Fine. But then stop saying you're all for truth - for truth, like my sky-man, is invisible.   
... And immaterial, as is your allusion to my "invisible sky man".





Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Mystery of Baptism

Enough of politics for now.

I am enjoying an email correspondence with a regular reader of this blog (the only one left I think, now that the others have deserted me over my criticism of a fan favorite), who is not Catholic, and who has asked me many thoughtful questions on Catholic doctrine.  Lately, we've been discussing Baptism.  My correspondent objects to Baptism as nothing more than an empty ritual.  I point out that Baptism is, on the contrary, a sacrament in which we die to the old self and to sin and in which we are reborn to a new life through Christ.  And so my correspondent asks ...


"So perhaps you might say that baptism is the point at which one turns from the world to Christ?"
 
Which is a good way of putting things.  But of course there's more.  So I reply ...


***
 
I think that's one way to say it.  
 
However our understanding of infant Baptism is that infants don't have this capacity, but their godparents do, and pledge that they will make sure the infant eventually does.  So consciously turning to Christ is not the whole of Baptism, but it is, I would say, the center of it - subjectively speaking.

Objectively speaking, it is really a participation in the death of Christ.  "For I was buried with Christ in Baptism, in which I was also raised with Him through faith," as St. Paul says.  It is a participation in the cross and resurrection.  That's what Christian life is all about.

And yet it's also a passive thing.  Like faith, it's a grace that comes to us and that we don't earn - thus infant Baptism.  Like faith, we must affirm the gift and act on it - thus adult Baptism (and its corollary, Confirmation), which is based upon the consent of the baptized person, and which presumes his growing in faith. 

The merits of the cross are passed on to us when we die and rise again in the baptismal font.  We do not deserve this at all.  But we are expected to embrace these gifts and act on them, "for faith works through love" as Paul tells us.  And so Baptism is, from our personal psychological point of view, the point at which we turn from the world to Christ.  From an objective point of view, it is simply a gift, unearned and free. 
 
Like life.  And like death.  And like life from death.

It's a real mystery - like the Trinity.  You could spend a lifetime meditating on Baptism and not get to the bottom of it.

My Ringing Endorsement

What I object to is not Romney supporters, but Romney supporters who really think he'll be anything but the very slightest improvement upon Obama - maybe. At least Obama is clear about who he is and what he wants to do. Romney isn't. He is an utterly dishonest man who cannot be trusted for a moment. We are fools to put our faith in him. We may not be fools to defeat Obama, but we are fools to elect Romney. Vote for him if you must as the lesser evil, but don't tell me I'm wrong when I say this man has no business being our president.

Watch this and tell me if you've ever seen anyone defend abortion with such zeal and with such haughty disdain for pro-lifers. Watch this and tell me he's anything but the lesser of two evils - and only marginally so.    And this is our choice in November.  God have mercy on us all.


Unreality

What is unreality?  It is the greatest threat to our relationship to a God who is Truth.

Some examples ...

  • Most actors in St. Louis, even if talented, are unprofessional - in the derogatory sense of that word.  They know they'll probably never make a living at their craft, and so they don't take it seriously.  They give themselves over to all kinds of narcissistic indulgences both on and off stage, and since there is, in their eyes, something contrived or artificial about their calling, they are never straight-forward or serious about it.  It becomes a kind of elaborate and sometimes life-long mind game.

  • Many non-profit corporations are unreal.  Since often they don't focus on the healthy and sane task of measuring their business success in terms of money, politics abound.  Politics and back-biting at a non-profit company are always worse than at a for-profit company.  We don't do well, we humans, in settings that are unreal.

  • Bad church architecture, ugly crucifixes, abstract stained glass windows, and insipid gay guitar music that goes on and on and on is unreal.  It appeals to no normal person.  It conveys the unspoken message - "This faith of ours is all made up, as is our God; He is of our making, and we make of him what we will."

  • Homosexuality is unreal.  It's not politically correct to say this, but "gay" men are the most affected, viciously unreal people you will ever meet.  Dressing up and play acting can make for some real meanness behind the mask.

  • Likewise, contraception is unreal.  It takes the basic fact of self-giving and the great blessing of child-rearing out of marriage - and so marriage becomes cohabitation and cohabitation becomes "gay marriage" and "gay marriage" becomes what all sex has become - a prolonged exercise in masturbation, itself hailed in our culture as the only remaining virtue.

  • Many "Christian films" and much "Catholic programming" is unreal.  Some of it is so utterly unrelated to real life that one wonders how psychologically disturbed its audiences must be.

  • Internet firestorms over whether women should wear pants - and similar issues - are unreal.

Now, our political system is unreal.  A Republican nominee who in 2002 very stridently and emphatically averred that he was "100% pro-choice" and who even today is pro-abortion in cases of rape, presenting himself as a good Catholic candidate is unreal.  Giving him a forum and a softball interview on a Catholic network (if that is indeed what happens) is unreal.  Defending him or defending an interview that appears as if it will serve his ends (and make no mistake, he would not have consented to this interview if he did not think he was in complete control and it would serve his ends) is unreal.

***

I have been told by my readers this week, both in comboxes and via email, that I am a judgmental beast badly in need of the confessional.  Of course they're right, but not for the reasons they think.

In fact, I'll go so far as to say this - I understand unreality because that's what I lived before my conversion; I understand unreality because that's what I still tend to live even today.

My tendency is to build a house of cards, to erect a false city in lieu of the Heavenly Jerusalem, to indulge in fantasy and in unproductive, unrealistic relationships and sometimes even business ventures.  I am a man more guilty of this sin than most.  C. S. Lewis also knew that this devotion to unreality was his besetting sin, and much of his private life bears witness to this, though he was able to keep the worst of it out of his writing.  I know that and I get that.  Having an active imagination, a fair amount of intelligence, an introverted nature, and a sensitivity and squeamishness about the outside world is a recipe for a life devoted to unreality.  By the grace of God, I can see that and I struggle against it.

But if we in the Church don't acknowledge this, we are not doing our job.  If we think we must get defensive about our fellow Catholics or about apostolates that sometimes cater to unreality, that we must defend them from constructive criticism, we are not doing our job.  Thus, if a non-Catholic says to me (as one recently did), the Church is full of hypocrites and liars who have no business preaching a morality they don't themselves practice, the only response is to say, "Amen.  You are right.  We're a sorry lot, but this 'hard teaching' is a task Our Lord gave us, and we can really only preach his word well when we ourselves repent and try to live it." 

You see, most people are normal and like at least some form of reality in their lives.  For most people, that reality consists of sex.  Or booze, or food, or money - or any of the things they can taste and see - unlike the dreary "Taste and See" hymn which nobody believes is real, though the thing it refers to is real.

For Christ is real.

He is so real that all reality comes from Him and depends upon Him.  His suffering is real.  His resurrection is real.  His presence among us is real.

And how can we preach the greatest Reality when we are devoted to our own contrived and impotent unreality all about us?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Great Catholic Writers - of Today!

Bad as things are, and bad as they're going to get, there are at least three great writers out there who are Catholic, reasonable, good writers, and not afraid to speak the truth.  Today people emailed me links to three of the best articles I've read in a long time.

The first, by Anthony Esolen, in Crisis Magazine is one of the most stirring pieces of writing I've read in a long time.  A clarion call for our bishops (and all of us) to begin to Witness - which is to say to be willing to be martyred - for the Faith.  You should read the whole article, but the best part might just be this near the end, where Esolen simply tells the Canadian bishops exactly what they should say to the government that is trying to crush them ...
Go ahead then—we dare you to keep bluffing. We dare you now to forbid us to teach the whole doctrine. We dare you to order us to bless fornication, divorce, abortion, contraception, onanism, unchastity, and all your miserable brew of temporary and local excitation to spice your perduring and spreading ennui. ... You have nothing to offer. You are holding a pair of threes. We have everything to offer. We proclaim the holiness of the human body.


The second, by Fr. George Rutler, is a manly and intelligent examination of anger, an emotion we are told to smother, as it fits not so well in to the land of eunuchs ("Sterility City" as it were).  The money quote ...

Anger as a deadly sin is like an oil spill instead of oil for energy. When anger is used rightly it becomes strength.




And finally, the inimitable Fr. Barron uses VP  Candidate Ryan to elucidate Church teaching on a variety of things.  As usual, Fr. Barron is charitable, reasonable and balanced.  For example ...
Solidarity without subsidiarity can easily devolve into a kind of totalitarianism whereby "justice" is achieved either through outright manipulation and intimidation or through more subtle forms of social engineering. But subsidiarity without solidarity can result in a society marked by rampant individualism, a Gordon Gekko "greed is good" mentality, and an Ayn Rand/Nietzschean "objectivism" that positively celebrates the powerful person's dominance of the weak.  Catholic social theory involves the subtle balancing of these two great principles so as to avoid these two characteristic pitfalls.


Friday, August 17, 2012

The Archangel is Talking to Me

... Archangel Radio, that is, in Mobile Alabama.  Todd Sylvester, host of their live morning show, is about to interview me.  I'm on hold, listening to Todd and his engineer banter a bit.  Sounds like a fun show.  Todd is fascinated that I'm currently at a water park in Duluth, Minnesota.  They've never yet interviewed someone on air who was at a water park.

Anyway, the show starts now (7:00 am Central Time), and you can listen online by clicking here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hilaire Belloc - the Perfect After-Dinner Speaker

Actor Kevin O'Brien as Hilaire BellocI will be performing as Hilaire Belloc a lecture on "The Great Heresies" on Sunday, August 26 in St. Louis.  Be sure to come!  My friend Dale Ahlquist said, "Everyone in America should see this show."

The following comes from the Credo website -


The Church has dealt with heresies since Pentecost: Arians denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ; the Manicheans denied His humanity; the Albigensians denied the existence of an omnipotent Creator. Although Belloc says “doctrinal Protestantism is dead” its effects remain, and so it deserves a mention among the more definite heresies. But there are today two great heresies that threaten Christendom mortally. Mr. Belloc thinks Mohammedanism is a heresy in the same way as the other ancient heresies, and he will explain why he thinks it has survived some 1,400 years and why it is a mistake to think it is not a threat. But the Mohammedan has a definite faith. Belloc will also describe what he calls The Modern Phase, wherein we experience a diffuse attack on the reasonability of faith itself, which leads straight to the HHS mandate.

Join us at 6 PM Sunday August 26th for an evening with Hilaire Belloc, Catholic novelist, essayist, social critic, poet, and Member of Parliament at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Clayton, Missouri. Non-Members $32; Members $27; Group of 8+ $27. Free inside parking at the 7777 Bonhomme Parking Garage. The bridge from the garage to the hotel is on the Orange Level. The garage gate will be open when you leave. Register Here by Noon on Tuesday, August 21st. First time? Other Questions? E-mail us here and be sure to leave your phone number.

Full Color Logo for Catholic Christians Defending Christ & His ChurchHilaire Belloc (1870 — 1953) will be portrayed by St. Louis actor Kevin O’Brien. O’Brien has a series on EWTN called Theater of the Word, and you may have seen him and members of his acting company in various episodes of EWTN’s The Apostle of Common Sense, and The Quest for Shakespeare. (That’s Credo Board member Tom Leith as The Duke of Venice, nervously presiding over the suit of Shylock v. Antonio). O’Brien portrayed Fr. Brown in the EWTN movie The Honor of Israel Gow, and Professor Eames in the feature film Manalive, adapted from Chesterton’s novel ,which premieres in early August. Locally, he’s heard on Covenant Radio as The (nameless, slightly reverberant) Voice of Authority on the program Faith Conversations with James and John.

Menu choices this time are Lemon Pepper Chicken, with a Lemon Sauce, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Broccoli; or Pasta Primavera. Entrees are served with salad, rolls, appropriate veggie, iced tea, and coffee. Dessert this time will be a cool, light sorbet.

Register Here by Noon on Tuesday, August 21st. After that, no guarantees but e-mail us here and be sure to leave your phone number.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Our Latest Newsletter

If you signed up for our newsletter, you'll be getting this via email shortly ...
____________________________________________________ 

Kevin O'Brien and Marcus Grodi get Deep in Scripture



Many of you saw Kevin O'Brien, founder of the Theater of the Word Incorporated, on EWTN's The Journey Home  this week.  But a lot you don't get Catholic Radio, and so you miss Marcus Grodi's excellent program Deep in Scripture, in which he interviews guests about Scripture passages that they find significantly meaningful.

And guess what?  Thanks to the magic of the internet, the radio show becomes a TV show!  You can watch Kevin's hour-long appearance on Deep in Scripture below - the video recording of Kevin's radio appearance.






How to Book Us

We received many emails and calls after The Journey Home from folks who wanted more information on how to book us for a live performance. 

To begin with, you can find out more about the plays we perform at our website, www.thewordinc.org .

Our pricing is very reasonable.  We charge less than it costs us to produce the plays and to run the apostolate.  You can either pay per show or you can pay a day rate as part of an extended tour - if you do the latter, we'll perform as many shows as you can schedule - up to four per day - for one low rate!  Also, you can save a ton of money on travel if you book us as part of an existing tour (see the article below) 

These shows are moving and powerful dramas and comedies - they bring the joy of Christ in a profound way to your parish or school.  You really need to book Theater of the Word Incorporated!

For more information, email us - info@thewordinc.org , or call 1-888-840-WORD. 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Upcoming Tours


Tours are starting to form for our live performances, including ...
  • October / November in Nebraska and the Plains
  • February in Florida
  • March in New England
  • Summer of 2013 in New England
Hop on board and book us when we're in your area!



Featured Video

On The Journey Home Kevin mentioned the EWTN movie version of G. K. Chesterton's play The Surprise.

Here, from an episode of Kevin's series The Theater of the Word, Kevin invades the set of another EWTN series The Apostle of Common Sense, much to host Dale Ahlquist's chagrin.  They proceed to watch and critique The Surprise.

To watch the clip, click here!

To purchase The Surprise on DVD, click here!



Featured Blog Post - Chesterton and Joy

For our readers who don't know anything about G. K. Chesterton, the writer whose works have converted many to the Christian faith, including Kevin O'Brien - read Kevin's post about the indescribable joy, suffering and adventure at the recent American Chesterton Society Conference in Reno, Nevada.

Click here to read!

Kevin O'Brien and Marcus Grodi get "Deep in Scripture"

Many of you saw me on EWTN's The Journey Home this week.

But a lot you don't get Catholic Radio, and so you miss Marcus Grodi's excellent program Deep in Scripture, in which he interviews guests about Scripture passages that they find significantly meaningful.

And guess what?  Thanks to the magic of the internet, the radio show becomes a TV show!  You can watch my hour-long appearance on Deep in Scripture below - the video recording of my radio appearance.


But Wait! There's More!

Another addition to our site The Christian Shakespeare, as we present a video interview with Joseph Pearce on Shakespeare and More - much More!  St. Thomas More, to be exact. 

Click here to watch the interview - hard ball questions and home run answers.

Chesterton and Zombies


Over at the Ink Desk, Joseph Pearce comments on my post (The Oasis of Joy) about the American Chesterton Society conference in Reno, Nevada, and adds his own pithy observations, including the delightful description of Chestertonians as ...

A couple of hundred joy-filled and rambunctious Christians, alive with the Faith and full of fun, capering with jollity in the land of the dead.

"Capering with jollity in the land of the dead!"

Chesterton amidst the zombies.  Click here to read Joseph's entire post.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Chesterton and Shakespeare

Yesterday I described in detail the indescribable American Chesterton Society Conference in Reno, Nevada.

What I failed to mention was that I presented a paper at the Conference on Chesterton and Shakespeare - in which  I make the claim that there's only one way to read Shakespeare, and that's as a Catholic.  Chesterton teaches us this.  Any reading that is more narrow or self-serving only adds to the confusion of the modern malaise.

A shortened version of the paper will be published in an upcoming St. Austin Review.

But you can read the full thing here at our Christian Shakespeare site

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Oasis of Joy

The Dying Man

"Who are you?  I want to thank you," he whispered, lying there.  On the side of the busy street.

"Don't worry about that.  Just pray for me," I replied.

He sat up.  Or tried to.  "Are you a Christian?" he asked.

"Yes."

"So am I," he said.  And he relaxed and faded back into unresponsiveness.

Above him, the lady continued to talk on her cell phone to 911.  "Does your chest hurt?" she asked, repeating what the dispatcher was telling her.  She repeated the question several times.

"Veteran's Hospital," was all that he could muster, in a hoarse whisper.

He was wearing a Veterans of Foreign Wars baseball cap.  His face was covered with a three or four day growth of stubble.  He was lying on the sidewalk in downtown Reno, Nevada.  His cane lay beside him.  We had come upon him after dinner, walking back toward the Silver Legacy Casino where this year's national conference for the American Chesterton Society was being held.  Behind me stood a group of Chestertonians.

"Sir ... does your chest hurt?"

"Yes."  But it was unclear if he even knew what the question meant. 

I said some things to console him, to calm him down, as he would grow into confusion and agitation when awake.  He was slipping in and out of consciousness.  The lady was told to feel his skin.  She touched his hand and he recoiled in anger.  I talked to him some more.  He seemed to understand what I was saying.  He then reached up, eager for the human touch that had just been drawn away.

The paramedics arrived.  They knelt down beside me and the dying man.

"What's your name, sir?" one of them asked.  His eyes glazed over.  "Are you in pain?" she asked.  No answer.  "How much have you had to drink?" she asked.

"As much as I could!" he whispered.

"When was your last drink?" she asked.

"Five months ago," he said sadly and his eyes lost focus and nearly shut.

Was he homeless?  A drunk?  An old man having a heart attack or a stroke?

"Are you in pain?" she asked again.  The other paramedic began to set up a stretcher.  No more replies, but he continued breathing.

I stood up to get out of their way.  I crossed myself.  We prayed over him.


The Hooker

I was talking with David in the hallway on the 20th floor outside the elevators.  It was 2:30 in the morning.

The elevator doors opened and out walked a man about my age with a pot gut and a very young dark-skinned black woman on his arm, pretty, provocative, about 22, who looked right at me and made disturbingly direct eye contact.  She smiled.  A very daring and inviting smile.  A smile that said, "Next!" 

He escorted her around the corner to his room.

David and I looked at one another.  "Well," I said, "It's legal here."

Less then five minutes later, the couple appeared again.  They got back on the elevator and the door shut.

"That could only have been one thing," I said to David, and used a slang term for the only sex act I could think of that could be performed in about three minutes in a hotel room in Reno.  Or in an alley.

A few minutes later, the doors opened again, and our friend - let's call him "John" - appeared, this time without the young woman.  He heard David complete a sentence on film criticism which ended with, "In Act Three of the first Harry Potter film -"

John interrupted him.  "That's a sentence I've never heard before in Reno!" he exclaimed, and I noticed how much he was slurring and how badly he was staggering as he walked to his room.  This time to stay.  Alone.


The Reluctant Convert

The pressure was getting to him.  He was in deep waters.  He was arguing his Protestant bullet points with people that he had no idea were the smartest Catholics and the leading apologists in the country.  He was starting to melt down.  He had caught a glimpse of the Body of Christ and the light was too much to handle.  He was pushing back.



The Priest

"The problems with Reno are the problems with America," he said to me.

And I knew that Father was right.  He had nailed it.

To begin with, you're in a desert. 

My daily three hour hike would take me up into the mountains to pray.  Once you get past the neon, the slot machines, the drunks, the hookers, the dying men on the street, the gamblers sitting alone and sad and bored hitting the same button over and over again, you see the beauty - and the desolation - that surrounds you.



A view from my daily hike.

It was 100 degrees and sunny.  Every day.  I would drink three 20-ounce bottles of water on the way up the mountain, and three 20-ounce bottles of water on the way down - a gallon total.  Any less than that and I would have collapsed - on the streets of downtown, perhaps.

The skyscrapers around the Silver Legacy are abandoned.  Abandoned skyscrapers.  Uninhabited.  Casino hotels, some of them, closed, sliding into a slow dilapidation.



Reno as seen from the mountains.


I have never seen so many abandoned skyscrapers.

But the neon always shines.  The drinks are always served.  The gambling never ends.

This is paradise. 

Or so we keep telling ourselves.


The Murderers

Three blocks from the Silver Legacy, on the way to the mountains and the desert, my daily walk would take me past a modest building with a large blue sign out front - PLANNED PARENTHOOD.

I would say three Hail Maries and feel helpless.

On the second day, two teen-aged girls casually strode into the building from the parking lot.

One of them was texting, not looking up.  Like they do.  They could have been at the mall from the way they were acting.

Were they workers?  Clients?

"Am at PP.  Will see u after abortion.  Later."

But don't think about that.  This is paradise.  Just keep telling yourself that.  Just keep pressing that button.  It might come up all sevens.  Light a cigarette.  Get a drink.  Find a hooker.  Look past the dying man.  Forget about the empty buildings.  Look past the dying country.  Look past the dying culture.


The Argument

On one side of the table sat two of the key players in the Morality of Lying argument - Mark Shea and me.  My writings had fewer readers than Shea's, but my involvement with James O'Keefe and my early defense of him and the sting video technique were an important part of the debate.  The debate had gotten ugly at times, but it was not ugly now.

Across from us sat Dale Ahlquist, who still supports lying in sting videos (although he won't call it lying) and Jason Jones, a producer of the film Bella, and a long-term warrior on the front lines of the Pro-Life movement, who started the sting technique years ago on his radio show, and whose daughter herself makes sting videos.



Left to right - Mark Shea, Jason Jones, Dale Ahlquist

The debate was not ugly now - though Dale made me pretty mad at one point.  It was not ugly now because, although we were all sticking to our guns - and although we talked until well past 2:00 am, we saw in our faces and heard in our voices the emotional and spiritual and human context that was often missing from the internet during the Lying Debate.

I saw how someone like Jason, fighting with very little support the most important social battle in the world - a battle against what he calls "democide" (the deliberate and systematic murder of a segment of our population) - a battle against the heart of the Culture of Death - a battle to save the most innocent among us - I could see how Jason could say, "The Catholic Church doesn't care about abortion.  If it did, it would do something about it.  And when some of us do, and we're attacked by our fellow Catholics for something as trivial as lying - lying to save lives!  When that happens -" and the frustration filled his face.

But I think Jason saw something in Mark and me - in our faces; perhaps he heard something in the tone of our voices that we were hearing in his. 

I think he saw that we are not saying what we say to attack the Pro-Life movement, but to protect it - to protect it from what we see as the beginning of consequentialism - the mistaken belief that the end justifies the means and that we may do wrong so that good may come.  Perhaps he saw that we have never intended to equate what Lila Rose and others are doing with the horrors they are opposing.  Perhaps he does not know that we have said time and again that even if the sting videos are morally wrong, the wrong pales beside the enormity of the evil they are seeking to defeat.  Perhaps the context of our argument had been somewhat lost on him, as the context of his had been somewhat lost on us.


The Toast

Dale Ahlquist had asked me to give one of the formal toasts at the closing banquet. 

He told me to start funny and end serious.

Me giving the toast at the closing banquet.

I told the story of how I first contacted Dale ten years ago - a story he always gets wrong, and which I finally dug up the email evidence for. 

"I emailed Dale and suggested live productions of Chesterton's two best plays - Magic and The Surprise.  I was but a recent Catholic convert.  I was quite naive.

I was so naive I asked, 'Is this the sort of thing the American Chesterton Society would pay to produce?'  I was so naive I asked, 'Is this the sort of thing EWTN would pay to produce?'  I was so naive I asked, 'Is this the sort of thing anyone in the Church would pay to produce?'"

And I told the story of how I first met Dale.

"I had brought several actors to EWTN to film Season Three of The Apostle of Common Sense.  It was the first time I had met Dale in person, and I wasn't sure I liked him.  Most of you still feel that way.

We were all in a van going out to dinner.  Dale was driving and Chuck Chalberg was next to him.  My actors and I were piled in the back.  This was before Theater of the Word.  They were all secular fundamentalists.

One of the actresses - having no clue where she was - began to pipe up.  It was the Primary season for the election of 2004 and Howard Dean was making a brief splash in the Democratic Party.

'I just love Howard Dean, don't you!' she exclaimed, referring to that liberal spiteful pro-choice whack job, Howard Dean.  That baby-killing Church-hating quasi-psychotic Howard Dean.  That pro-abort anti-family mental-case Howard Dean.  'I just love him, don't you!'

Dale, driving the van, didn't miss a beat.  He calmly replied, in a very kind and generous tone: 'Chesterton was right.  Women should never have been given the right to vote.'

And the actress wouldn't speak to us for the rest of the week.
And Dale Ahlquist has been one of my best friends ever since."

And then I got serious.


"After each of my visits to EWTN I used to think the same thing that I used to think after each of my pilgrimages to a Chesterton Conference.

I used to think, 'This is what the Church ought to be.'

Now I think, 'This is what the Church really is.'

A gathering of like-minded people, united in a kind of communion with one another, celebrating Our Savior Jesus Christ through the sacramentals of good writing, good company, drinks, food, laughter, and by means of His saints - in this case G. K. Chesterton.

This is what the Church is.  The Church produces culture.  The Church inspires drama, writing, and art.  The Church leads us to joy.

But it is the joy that C. S. Lewis so accurately described.  It is a joy that comes with a longing and is tinged with sadness, for it is a joy that includes suffering, and that gives a taste of a more complete fulfilment in the Inn at the End of the World.
This conference has included dying men on the street and hookers in the elevators; it has included speeches at the podium and arguments at the tables; to reach the conference hall we had to walk through a maze of slot machines, located in an empty downtown in a false oasis in a scorching desert in a dying culture.
But the Conference is real - and what happens here is real; more real than the make-believe that surrounds us. 
For the American Chesterton Society Conference is the Church - a glimpse of the True Church.  And when we're at our local parishes, with their bad architecture, their insipid music, their ugly art, their parishioners who don't particularly want to be Catholic and who don't really enter into any meaningful communion with Christ or with others - when we're back home we have to keep in mind ... that a parish like that is less of the Church than a Conference like this."

And I concluded

"G. K. Chesterton is the most powerful force in the Church today.  He has been responsible for thousands of conversions, including mine.  He has been responsible for the Catholic Literary Revival, and is the main character behind this strange cultural revival, a revival seen in enclaves and in fits and starts, of which the annual conference is the most telling example.

There will come a time when the Church will look around and say, 'Oh, this is what the Holy Spirit has been doing for the past several years.  He's been working through the cult of Chesterton, and He has, as usual, much surprised us.'"

And we raised our glasses to toast.


The Return

I sat beside Nancy Brown on the flight home, and we talked for nearly four hours straight.  Nancy is a wonderful person and has a particular love for Chesterton's wife, Frances, who, I learned, wrote a number of poems and plays, which Nancy has gathered and published.


with Joseph Pearce (center) and Nancy Brown

She agreed with me that this year's conference was particularly spiritual and powerful, the "best conference ever," as Dale kept calling it.

I am home now, trying to focus on a great creative and practical vision that was given to me in Reno, and that was confirmed in a number of powerful ways.  And trying to put into words what the past few days were like.

But it's not possible, for that kind of joy, though more real than anything we touch with our hands, is fleeting - solid and the source of all solidity, but constantly beyond our reach.

I was on EWTN's The Journey Home tonight, an appearance taped about six weeks ago - and after watching it with Karen and Kerry I knew that somehow I hadn't quite gotten it.  I hadn't manged to put into words anything close to what is true about God in my life and about the great lost chord of the most perfect song ever written.

On The Journey Home, I mentioned The Surprise.  In The Surprise (Chesterton's most brilliant play), the Poet strums his guitar looking for a song of great beauty that always eludes him.  He says ...

There are four notes that I can almost hear, but cannot yet name or number, that lift the last line of the song suddenly into heaven. Or at least they will, when I know what they are....

Well, I know what they are, but I can never quite sing them.


The Revival

I once wrote, concerning the Surprising revival of the author of The Surprise ...

Chesterton, the most brilliant essayist and thinker of the twentieth century, had been buried. But this is a Faith of Resurrection, and we now see Chesterton out of his grave, jovial and ebullient as ever. This has caused a rush on shovel sales.

For the critics - the secular fundamentalists - are trying to re-bury him.  But Chesterton can't be buried again.  No grave is big enough to hold him.  He has, like our Church, and like its founder, an annoying knack for finding his way out of the tomb.

***

"An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered," he once wrote, and so Dale Ahlquist has started the tradition of the Cup of Inconvenience, awarded at each Conference to the attendee who suffered the most en route or on site.

This year the award went to a woman who was diagnosed with terminal cancer one month ago.  She was very sick and taking chemo daily. 

She has been a faithful viewer of The Apostle of Common Sense for years, and her one desire was to see Dale in person before she died.  Her doctor told her that if she took chemo Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the beginning of the week, that she should be well enough to go to Reno and get through Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Chesterton Conference at the end of the week. 

And she had a joyful time.  And she drank from the cup.



***

From Chesterton's novel The Man who was Thursday ...
"I repel the slander; we have not been happy. I can answer for every one of the great guards of Law whom he has accused. At least—"

He had turned his eyes so as to see suddenly the great face of Sunday, which wore a strange smile.

"Have you," he cried in a dreadful voice, "have you ever suffered?"

As he gazed, the great face grew to an awful size, grew larger than the colossal mask of Memnon, which had made him scream as a child. It grew larger and larger, filling the whole sky; then everything went black. Only in the blackness before it entirely destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?"

The Conclusion


With actress Nicole Scofield, shortly after our visit with the dying man.


The Puritan "is always screwing himself up to see the truth," Chesterton observed; the Catholic "is often content that truth is there."

God is Truth, His Church is real, and so is that joy - it is hard to grasp and impossible to describe, but it is real; it is true.  Its taste is sweet, but not saccharine - for it is seasoned with suffering; it fills our cups; our cups runneth over. 

And when Reno, Nevada falls with a crash like Sodom or evaporates with a sigh like a desert mirage, and when America and the West follow - it will be to the enclaves where men will turn, to the gatherings that by then will either be filling more fully the convention halls beside the casinos or huddled here and there in the catacombs beneath. 

Eating the Bread and drinking from the Cup.  And celebrating our salvation.


Three of the Four Musketeers.


My buddy Kaiser Johnson - and the rest of us - feeling like kings.

(Thanks to Joe Grabowski for some of these photos.)