Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Big Adventure in the Little Grand Canyon

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

This is the trail.

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

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

A field of my favorite plants - ferns!

More ferns.

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


Cooling off under the drippings of a cliff ledge.

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

Fidelity is the Key to Success

Mickey Rooney showing us what a Frustrated Actor looks like.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Worshiping the Lie: Catholics, Mormons and Muslims

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are worshiping the lie.


***

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

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

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

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

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


Anonymous Saints: In the Darkest Hours, Joy

A young Tonita Helton and her mother

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

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

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

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

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

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



Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Real Desecration of Marriage

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

She told the following story.

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

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

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

***

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

AUGUST 24 2014 | BY FR MATTHEW P. SCHNEIDER, LC
I recently tweeted something similar to your whole issue about gay marriage, marriage, courtship et al:

Serial adultery & divorce destroys marriage more than gay marriage.
B4 fighting gay marriage, we need to restore marriage.
 
You can read the ~75 replies at: https://twitter.com/FrMatthewLC/status/502571100354908160

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

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

Exactly.

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



New Episodes of The Apostle of Common Sense!

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


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

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

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

Our premiere episode is The Man Who Went Sane.

Be sure to tune in!




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Happy Feast Day

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

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

He's almost an Anonymous Saint.


Anonymous Saints

This is not exactly what I want - but read on


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Monday, August 25, 2014

Our Eyes Enlightened by Growing Love


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Cracklin Prose, You Make Me Smile

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

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

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


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


Read more: http://www.cracked.com/article_21450_5-successful-people-who-everyone-forgets-are-exposed-frauds.html#ixzz3BQTN0TqQ

Just Friends is Just Stupid



One of my readers, reflecting on my posts on Catholic Dating, and especially on my description of a male-female friendship gone bad, which I write about here, ponders the advice he'd give single Catholic guys who are in his position (my emphasis) ...

I would tell them that they need to stop all of this exclusive hanging out with a girl if they are at all interested in the girl. If you acknowledge just being friends, that's fine. But if you have the slightest inkling that you like a girl, you must ask her out. Dragging it on and on puts her in a position to potentially manipulate the situation, and that's how you get into the friend zone, and how all of these other painful situations arise.
Just tell men to stop allowing themselves to be psychologically abused by women. It does happen in reverse, but the trend the last 25 years with feminism has been women using men, I think.

Of course, in defense of the women, there's more to be said here.

Women are not looking for a guy to be friends with.  Women are driven to find a father for their babies - whether they admit this to themselves or not.  Women understand the seriousness of this at a level men just don't get.  (It dawns on Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing - he decides to romance Beatrice because, dammit! - "The world must be peopled!")

Now it may sometimes happen that a woman forms an intensely intimate bond with a "safe" man, with a man she knows she'll never marry, either because he's gay or already married or a priest or something similar.  But if a woman forms a bond with an available single straight male, she's not interested in the friendship.  In fact, there really is no such thing as simple male-female friendship (I mean men and women becoming intimate friends, not just casual acquaintances), except under very unusual conditions, as J. R. R. Tolkien pointed out ...

In this fallen world the 'friendship' that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man and woman. The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favourite subject. He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones. This 'friendship' has often been tried: one side or the other nearly always fails. Later in life when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a 'friendship' quite independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost certainly, by 'falling in love'. 

So if a guy in fact drags his feet, the way my reader describes, one can hardly blame the woman for "manipulating the situation".

That's because it's a situation analogous to community theater.  In the world of professional theater, the focus is on getting the show put together and making money at it, because real people from the real world are going to pay to come see it, and it has to be good and you're working under pressure.  But in community theater and semi-pro theater, where everybody knows that the whole thing is a kind of hobby and no money is going to be made, and nobody other than your family and friends are going to come to see it, and they don't really care if it's any good - in other words where it's all a bit Unreal - people's focus often shifts to politics, intrigue and gossip.  These things are present in the professional world as well, of course, but in the world of hobby-theater they often become paramount.

So, guys, if you like a girl but you dither around in the "friendship zone", she'll work the situation in the worst way possible, because it's suddenly not real to her.  Take a woman's strongest traits - a focus on acquiring, possessing and cultivating a family - and frustrate them so that these rather frightening characteristics get focused on mind games and frivolities, and you've got a really bad situation for everyone involved.

Because Just Friends is Just Stupid.


The Real Scandal of the Church



I remember being sick once.  It was a kind of flu that came on suddenly.  I was hit by it while on a walk and it took all my strength to retrace the few miles back home.  I was laid out good, for several days.  I could hardly get out of bed.  I didn't want to read or anything.

When I finally got better, a strange little thought struck me.  The wonder, I thought, is not that we get sick but that we're ever well.  Getting up and about, loving life, doing things, being happy - these things are almost miraculous.  The baseline is illness; the unexplained gift is health.

***

I have written a lot recently about Bad Things.  Catholics unable to find mates.  Bishops and cardinals boldly acting without a trace of compassion.  The lack of love that even parents or friends or spouses can be convicted of.

And I may yet write on the strange case of cult leader / child molester Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, whose financial frauds are detailed here.  Leaving his sexual perversion and child abuse aside, and looking at his financial malfeasance alone, you have to wonder how intelligent Catholic businessmen could have been so seduced by the prospect of a false utopia in the Pennsylvania hills that they gave millions to this man.  The fact that the bishop was fooled comes as no surprise ... but rich Catholic businessmen? Guys who have some practical knowledge of the world?  What on earth is wrong with us???

And, over on Facebook, my Catholic friends are quite rightly upset about all this stuff - for it all causes scandal.  Is this the best we can expect from bishops and priests?  Is this the best we can expect from the laity?  Is this the best we can expect from ourselves?  One of my loyal blog readers asks, "If clerical celibacy is a sham, why don't we just do away with it?"

But of course, you could also ask, "If marriage is a sham, why don't we just do away with it?"  Or, "If the priesthood is a sham, why don't we just do away with it?"  Or, "If the friendship is a sham or if parenthood is a sham, or if Faith itself is a sham ... "

***

The fact is there is a bigger scandal here than we can imagine.

My friend Tom Leith reminded me of it, though we all know it.

The much, much larger scandal, literally and anciently the 'stumbling block' of Faith, is that there is a personal God in Heaven who loves you so very much He told his Son to take on flesh and die for you. Then the Son did it. Who'd a thunk?

Who'd a thunk indeed.

Realize this: the reason all of these things that I've been harping on lately seem so discouraging to us is that we have a built in tension in our souls, a contradiction.  On the one hand, we are sick men unable to get out of bed.  On the other hand, we yearn for Truth, Beauty and Goodness and we are crestfallen when we see men and women who aspire to these glories either deliberately or unwittingly missing the mark.  The bad would not look bad were there not a backdrop of good behind it, even a backdrop that never gets fully realized in this world.  And that backdrop of good - that image in our hearts - comes from where?

It comes from beyond our souls.  It comes from the miraculous place - the place of joy and light - not from the sick place, the place where we feel so awful and the world looks so gray that we can't even get out of bed some days.  That latter place is well known and common and always with us.

But that spark - that true scandal of love and self-sacrifice; that thrilling secret truth of the universe: the fact that caritas is the engine that drives us, "the love that moves the sun and the other stars" as Dante (the Catholic poet) described it some 700 years ago, the tremendously shocking fact that there is a God who cares, which is why we care - this is so inconceivable the only response is to stop our mouths in awe (see Job 40:4).

That is the Real Scandal of the Church, and that is why every act that denies that, every sin of our own that serves to reject that, every passing thought that rebels against that, is treason to Him ... to a God who is Love Itself.



St. Louis the King: Humility and Glory

Banner of St. Louis hanging in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis - the view from where we were sitting.


Today is the feast of both St. Louis the King and St. Genesius, patron of actors.

Yesterday my family and I attended the Mass in Honor of the 250th Anniversary of the Founding of the city of St. Louis, at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis.  Cardinal Rigali began the Mass by reading a letter from Pope Francis praising my home town and the saint who gave us his name.

14 bishops were in attendance!  My son Colin and I were counting miters as they processed in.

But what stuck with me the most was Cardinal Rigali quoting St. John Paul II, who said this in St. Louis, at this same cathedral, 15 years ago ...

“If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. It you want life, embrace the truth, the truth revealed by God.”

... and, I would add, love the poor, the oppressed, the suffering and the misfits in a spirit of humility, as did St. Louis the King.

St. Louis and St. Genesius, pray for us!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hearts of Flesh and the Personal Dimension of Salvation



We are not saved by a system.  We are not saved by a program.  We are not saved by a gimmick.

We are saved by a person.  And by His death, which was the most personal gift He could give.

This is why heart must speak to heart (as I wrote, quoting Bl. John Henry Newman, earlier today - whose motto was cor ad cor loquitur: heart speaks to heart).  Anything in the Church that falls shy of loyalty, love, fidelity and integrity between people; anything that falls shy of the true mutual giving and sacrifice of love; anything that falls shy of an actual realistic relationship; anything that falls shy of heart speaking to heart and heart listening to heart is a sham and is a hollow mockery of what saves us.

The impersonal is the life (and the lie) of the heart of stone.  The personal is the mark of the circumcised heart, the heart of flesh (see Ez. 36:26).

This is why, when a bishop or a cardinal argues that they are not responsible for reprehensible actions that they've enabled and covered up, even if such a stance is a swing at a legitimate legal defense, it betrays Jesus Christ and His Spirit that operates within us.  And it destroys the hopes and fans the flaming anger of victims.  It shows at best disregard and at worst contempt for the hearts of others.  This should be self-evident, but for many people today, it isn't.

And you can see this playing out all around you, if you look.

***

She was a wealthy adolescent.  She was smart and creative, but, like many children of wealth, she was neglected.  She had everything she wanted materially, but in a very fundamental way her parents didn't care for her, at least not enough to parent her.  They were planning to ship her off to a long-term stay at a boarding facility - against her will.

She looked right at me one day.  "My parents would be happier if I were entirely out of their life," she said.

"Ohhh," I said, "it's not that bad."

But it was.  And it took me a while to see the awful truth, a truth that had so surrounded her that it had threatened to drown her all her life.  She had to keep up the doggie paddle or she'd simply sink, and Mom and Dad would be too busy at the country club to throw her a line.

Imagine being a child or a teen and living with that knowledge.  You'd try to hide the pain by taking drugs, or running away, or withdrawing from life, or acting out.  She tried all of these things, and of course none of them helped.  Neither did the therapy or the rehab stints that absentee Mom and Dad kept sending her to.

What would have helped was the one thing she didn't have.  Heart speaking to heart.  Love.

It's a price wealthy parents are not always willing to pay.  Why would you, when you can buy yourself out of it?

***

He thought that even though they weren't lovers, they were at least friends.  It had been a long term long-distance email relationship, and they had shared much with one another (at least early on), and he had done his best to help her and be there for her when she needed him, but recently, despite their original intensity, he was noticing that time and again she refused to reciprocate.  She enjoyed his attention, but when the chips were down, she would vanish.  It got to a point where she wouldn't even show him common courtesies and she began to treat him like a kind of benign acquaintance, rather than as a friend.  She moved on and she liked to pretend they had never been close; that seemed to assuage her, but it haunted him.  She was nice, but in a condescending way, and complacently distant - even after heart had spoken to heart.

"It looks like she's dumped you," I observed.

"But I was always there for her.  I opened my heart to her.  And she did to me.  How can she be so glib and smug about this - as if that had never happened?"

***

They were married, and their lives together were make-believe.  Something highly artificial abounded in their relationship.  The age difference was a factor, and when she refused to acknowledge that he was old and sick, but insisted that he keep up the eternal forced and relentless pace that she had long demanded of him, they were both harder to be around than ever.  It was exhausting and sad.  They kept up appearances, but neither for each other, nor for their friends and family could heart simply speak to heart.  They both saw to it that it was never that easy, never that real, never that loving.

And instead of a mutual peace, there was an incessant treadmill.

***

If it is true that in the Church today we are answering questions that no one is asking (as I wrote earlier, quoting a friend of mine), then it's simply because heart is not speaking to heart.  Or because heart is not listening to heart.

If one heart speaks, the other must listen.  That's the key to friendship, and that's the key to prayer (I mean not only talking to God, but listening to Him).  And if we listened to our neighbors, both in and out of the pews, we would hear that same longing, that same silent lament, that same sad mourning for a moon that never changes, a moon of glowing silver that draws us to a glorious glen, hidden in a bower, aglow with fireflies and filled with a magical breeze: for this longing is found in the hearts of more than just poets.  And we might hear the questions they are asking, and we might begin to answer them.


The Scandal of Coffee and Donuts

Canon Ueda (who has been giving Private Instruction to my actor Dave, a recent convert to the Catholic Faith) told Dave this morning that it was not enough to go to Sunday Mass at St. Francis de Sales Oratory in South St. Louis, where Dave has been going.  He had to start going to Coffee and Donuts as well.

Why?

"We must not separate the sacramental life from the daily life," Canon Ueda said.

And I realized immediately that this is not only very profound, it's also a very simple way of saying what I have been trying to write about on this blog for a long time.  When we separate sacramental life from daily life, we are building an artificial wall between grace and nature, we are insulating ourselves, we are trying to turn God and His Church into something Unreal, something merely functional, that serves our own narrow needs and that locks out the rest of the world, as well as that disturbing Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Comforter (John 14:16), who brings something much more challenging and disturbing than mere suburban placid human comfort, which is what we think we prefer, but which is something that is ultimately poison for us.

In other words, even Coffee and Donuts can bring us to scandal, for even Coffee and Donuts can bring us out of our shell, out of our "comfort zones".

***

Those of us "inside the Roman beltway", those of us who are trying to be devout Catholics and who are geeky enough to read theology and talk philosophy and faith over beer or whiskey with like-minded friends, those of us who are more or less up to speed on church politics and who may even know personally some of the EWTN Rock Stars or some of the Catholic Answers Gurus who cause little old ladies to swoon, those of us who read papal encyclicals and apostolic exhortations - in other words those of us who are to a certain extent insulated from the real world out there - can find it hard to imagine the impact all of this stuff has on the human heart of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve who walk about in this vale of tears, whether they consider themselves Catholics or atheists.

Because we get too insulated, you know.   And we tend to miss the target - or the heart of the target ... and the heart of the target is the heart.

For instance, my posts on Catholic Dating really rang a bell with many of you - but normal secularists, and even normal Catholics, think this whole subculture of dating without having sex is just weird.  And even those of us inside that little circle - the circle of devout Christians who are hoping to find a devout mate and relate to him or her in a chaste manner - even that little circle is outside the more insulated and much more bizarre and dysfunctional world of "Christian Courting".  The sickness of the Christian Courting subculture stands as a sign for us that even our own relatively sane attempts to find true love can become quite self-serving and kind of incestuous by comparison with the more normal folk about us who aren't so hung up as all that.  Normal folk may not be striving for holiness, but common sense is a gift from God and it's something we often lose sight of - for common sense is a virtue of the human heart.

Maybe this can explain the cluelessness of the bishops, who like Cardinal Pell, cause more anger, despondency and despair with one statement (comparing the Church to to a trucking firm and thereby renouncing responsibility for sexual abuse committed by priests) than a dozen headlines of atrocities in the evening news.  To be fair, I have read a few reports that put Pell's statement into more of a context, and the transcripts of his testimony are available here (I have not yet read them) - but it's been my impression that the bishops are so insulated from the real world and the concerns of real people that they take for granted a kind of grandeur and self-importance that they simply don't have, and in most cases simply don't deserve.  And they get really mad when you challenge that.

But the problem of being insulated from the real world and the real concerns of real people is not a problem of bishops and cardinals only.

Indeed, my son Colin keeps reminding me that, when it comes to Devout Catholics (as my friend Noah Lett once said), we're busy answering questions no one is asking.  His Catholic friends at college were not concerned about the kinds of theological issues or political issues that did not have an immediate bearing on the crises of their lives, as lived every day.  There was a disconnect; there was something Unreal about the issues we kept harping on.  As far as that goes, "gay marriage" is such a non-issue for the vast majority of normal people in America (of all ages and demographics) that they can't begin to imagine what the fuss it.  Does that mean that we should stop talking about the sanctity of marriage?  No, but it's been almost 500 years since Henry VIII got that divorce - and all those other divorces - and the sanctity of marriage has not been an issue in the real world, and not even (apparently) at the parish level in the Catholic Church, for a long time, all the while pretty much everybody has been simply "doing it".  And why not?  When Pope Francis suggests we not hit people over the head with abortion and "gay marriage" (as important as those issues are), he's simply saying what C. S. Lewis said many years ago: you can't start a dialogue with non-believers by telling them to give up fornication.  That's kind of a conversation killer right there.  And it's putting the cart before the horse; it's looking through the telescope from the wrong end.  The role of sex in a life devoted to true love is not readily apparent to people who have not struggled to have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16).  The wholeness of the Christian message - the core of which is that God is love and that our greatest calling is to love Him and to love one another - leads (eventually, and by God's grace) to a change of heart and hence a change of behavior.  But we insulated Catholics inside the Roman beltway forget that sin and virtue are both simply fruits of the heart.  For what comes out of the heart defiles a man (Mat. 15:18), and what comes out of the heart justifies a man - so to speak; technically good works are the fruits of the Holy Spirit; but my point is the same.  The point is we are seeking - through Baptism and through the sacramental life - a change of heart, for the heart is the seat of the soul, the center of our being, the core of our very existence.

But we devout Catholics - bloggers and others - often forget that.  What we miss is the very target, the very center.  What we miss is the heart - its concerns, its pains, its passions.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,  
To me the meanest flower that blows can give  
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

A cardinal sitting peacefully in the Vatican and communicating via webcam to a courtroom in Australia filled with many who have suffered gravely at the hands of predator priests - and also at the hands of bishops who have enabled and covered up and lied for predator priests - a man, even a good man, insulated in such a way, perhaps forgets the human heart, forgets the target of all his life's work, forgets the message of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (both pierced for our sake).

And so do we - even bloggers and daily Mass goers and EWTN junkies and men and women on the street.

***

But some of us don't.  Canon Ueda and other good priests don't.  They remember that the heart of the target is the heart of the man.

COURAGE is defined on the Online Etymology Dictionary in this way ...

courage (n.) 
c.1300, from Old French corage (12c., Modern French courage) "heart, innermost feelings; temper," from Vulgar Latin *coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), from Latin cor "heart" (see heart) which remains a common metaphor for inner strength. 

To be DISCOURAGED is to lose heart.  To be ENCOURAGED is to gain strength of heart.

And both encouragement and discouragement can come from Coffee and Donuts.

Because communion with Christ must become communion with others.  And in that way cor ad cor loquitur - heart speaks to heart.

For without that, no evangelizaton - indeed no change of heart - can happen.




Friday, August 22, 2014

Our Bishops and Cardinals Just Keep on Truckin'



Cardinal Pell, in open court, in front of victims of sexual abuse, speaking via webcam from the Vatican ...
likened the Catholic Church’s responsibility for child abuse to that of a ”trucking company”. If a driver sexually assaulted a passenger they picked up along the way, he said, ”I don’t think it appropriate for the … leadership of that company be held responsible.”

What a completely stupid, crass, unfeeling, unchristian, unspiritual, vulgar and awful thing to say.  One of the lawyers involved corrected Pell's analogy ...

Warrnambool lawyer George Foster of Maddens Lawyers labelled the comments as “appalling”.
“I act for people who have been the subject of sexual abuse (and) Cardinal Pell’s analogy given to the royal commission likening the church’s legal liability to abused children as that of a truck company whose driver molested hitchhikers is appalling,” he said.
“May I suggest a more appropriate one: A boss who knows or suspects that his driver deliberately flouts the road laws continues to send him out on jobs.
“Late one night the driver sees a hitchhiker, deliberately lines him up and runs over him. The driver gets out of the truck, goes back to the hitchhiker, further assaults him and robs him.
“The driver then gets back into the truck, reverses over the stricken hitchhiker several times and then drives off while “flicking the bird” to the hitchhiker through his open cabin window.
“The driver then goes back to the depot and tells his boss what has happened. His boss tells him to clean the blood and guts off the bull bar, to tell no one and if challenged say that it was all the hitchhiker’s fault.”

But apparently Cardinal Pell has been using this strategy for quite some time.  Rocco Palmo, nearly ten years ago, outlines Cardinal Pell's "legal strategy" in defending one of his abusive priests ...

[T]he church argues it cannot be held liable for any damages claim because Duggan was not employed by the Sydney Archdiocese. Rather, priests have "a contract with God" and not with their employer. 

Righhht.  (Dear Lord, how can these bishops sleep at night?)

And, back in 1997, Bishop Egan of Bridgeport, Connecticut ...

... testified that his diocese cannot be held liable for the misconduct of a priest because priests are ``self-employed.'' They work in parishes that are corporations and are paid by them, not the diocese, he explained.

He said this and then went on to defend an internal diocesan memo that urged everyone to lie about this particular priest's absence.  "Tell people he's on leave because he has hepatitis; don't tell anybody he's been sent to a psychiatric facility because he's been molesting altar boys."  That's a paraphrase, but I am not making this story up. 

And apparently, the archdiocese of Miami, like the archdiocese of St. Louis, classified (until recently) its priests as "independent contractors" so as to avoid paying the employer's share of social security and medicare taxes.  Sometimes the "independent contractor" argument is valid ... but a priest is not a trucker, and these bishops are not leasing out to owner / operators.  And abused altar boys are not hitchhikers thumbing a lift on the side of the road, aware of the dangers they may be facing.

And just so you have a sense of what's really going on here, and what these men are enabling and excusing ...

A HUNTER [Australia] man wept in a courtroom on Friday as he asked the questions that expose the tragedy of child sexual abuse.
"What could I have been? What would my life have been like?" asked the man known as ST, as defrocked Catholic priest John Denham, 72, sat metres away in a glass-enclosed dock.
ST told a sentencing hearing at the Sydney Downing Centre court that he struggled with suicide every day because those questions could never be answered.
"I hate life. I look forward to the day I die," he said in a statement read to Judge Helen Syme by his legal representative, Nicola Ellis.
ST was Denham's student at St Pius X High School, Adamstown, in the 1970s.
Denham is being sentenced after pleading guilty in August last year to 25 child sex charges including buggery, violent oral sex and indecent assault involving 18 boys, aged 11, 12 and 13, at Singleton, Wingham and St Pius X in the 1970s. He accepted another 23 indecent assault charges had occurred.
It is the third round of sentencing in 14 years for Denham, after he was convicted in 2010 of crimes against 39 boys aged 5-16 and sentenced to remain in jail until at least 2022.
He was first sentenced in 2000 for child sex crimes against a 14-year-old, and received a two-year suspended sentence.
The suicide of one of Denham's victims, Belmont North man John Pirona, was the catalyst for the Newcastle Herald campaign for a royal commission into child sexual abuse.  
In court on Friday, Judge Syme, who described Denham as a sadistic priest when she sentenced him in 2010, helped another Hunter victim, known as PM, read his statement to the court after he sobbed to a halt.
PM described how he arrived at St Pius X as a small and vulnerable child, whose parents and a stepfather died before he was 10.
"I believe the Catholic school system should have protected me from my abuser," PM said. "The Catholic Church should have investigated, but what it did was protect the abuser."
In brief evidence, Denham told the court St Pius X school principal, the late priest Tom Brennan, never spoke to him about allegations from students and others that Denham was a sexual offender.
Father Brennan died in 2012 after he was charged with concealing Denham's crimes, and sexually assaulting a child. Father Brennan was convicted in 2009 of making a false statement to police in which he said he knew nothing about Denham's offences.
Judge Syme will sentence John Denham at a later date. 


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Show Biz and the Divine Drama



Mark Shea has written a third installment in his series on the connection between Drama and Religion, which you can find at Catholic World Report.  Since I've written about this topic myself (mostly from the point of view of actors, or the analogy between Acting and the Faith), I thought I'd add a few things to the very insightful points that Mark makes.


  • Shea's first installment discusses the history of drama and its relation to religion, and also tackles the overall philosophical connection between Drama and Worship.  

I find it interesting that many of the commenters on that installment entirely miss Mark's point.  They seem to think he's saying that our Faith is merely a kind of Divine Drama, and that the Catholic Mass is a kind of show that simply represents something for our spiritual amusement.  I am often astounded at the lack of imagination that literalists (either Catholic or Protestant or Atheist) bring to bear, especially when analogy is involved.  

On the contrary, Shea points out that Drama is a kind of analogy to our participation in the Faith, that ritual and dramatic performance are similar, and that they have aims that can be compared to one another; that both in Greece and in England, Drama sprang up historically in religious contexts, and that even today Drama at its best is an attempt to connect men with "the gods".  This "sets the stage", so to speak, for the overall analogy that Shea will be examining in his series of posts.  

And yet one further thing needs to be said, and it's something G. K. Chesterton understood innately about what Drama (indeed about what all art) is.  Drama takes places on a stage, on a screen, framed within a proscenium.  Even if there's no proscenium, and the play is a "theater in the round" or an "interactive" comedy like my murder mysteries, there is always an artificial distance between the performers and the audience, and even between the performers and their material.  Everyone is pretending.  In the same way that a baseball game is played within the set confines of a field, so a dramatic performance takes place within a delimited area (either a physical area or an area of the imagination), a special place marked off from the rest of the world.  It is this limitation, this framing, that allows the participants the freedom to engage their imaginations without being threatened.  To watch the mob scene in a performance of Julius Caesar is thrilling.  To be part of a mob scene in Ferguson would be terrifying.   

Drama, then, is a kind of Big Playground, a safe place, where writers, actors and audiences all play.  And this playing with the big questions of life - the nature of man and how his acts reveal to us the nature of God - this imaginative hypothetical, shows us, as Shakespeare's Touchstone points out, that there is "much virtue in if".  


And he quite rightly sees the heart of the analogy.  Actors who act on stage or in film adopt a kind of mask, a false persona, that they try to conform themselves to as genuinely as possible so that the performance is all the more artistic and believable.  But this is what we do as Christians, and we are hupocritos, "hypocrites" (stage actors, pretenders wearing a mask), whether we like it or not.  

And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind ... (Rom. 12:2)

For the great challenge of life in the Faith is Getting in Character as a Christian.  Actors understand this analogy deeply.  The hard part about acting is "getting it", finding the integrity or inner consistency of the character you're portraying.  Once you do that, the role becomes natural: your gestures, your words, your voice and movement - everything about you conforms to the character, once you've found the character's soul or center.

So much of our frustrations as Bad Christians comes from not yet Getting in Character for our roles.  When the mask is simply something separate from us, simply something extrinsic that we aspire to, we often find ourselves becoming obsessed with the minutiae, focused on various virtues or sins rather than the big picture; or worse, we start to rationalize away all sorts of acts that show that we're still "conformed to this world" and not "transformed" by the renewing of our minds.

But this inner transformation is beyond us.  It cannot happen without sacramental grace.  It also cannot happen without our conscious and deliberate cooperation with that grace.  Conforming ourselves to the Costume that we put on at our Baptisms is a mystery - one that requires both our own efforts and also the cessation of our efforts.  It is both an acquiescence to something greater, and also a striving toward something greater.

This is the paradox of living the Faith that acting in a drama perfectly mimics.  As an actor, if you don't do a certain amount of conscious work, such as learning your lines, studying the play, meditating upon your character, planning certain bits, rehearsing - you'll get nowhere.  But by the same token, if you don't abandon all of that work and preparation in the moment of performance, your acting will be stilted, contrived, awkward.  When the curtain goes up and the lights shine down, you must (in a sense) lose your life to save it (see Mat. 10:39) and abandon your work to the Holy Spirit, to the inspiration of the moment.  I think musicians, athletes and soldiers all understand what I'm saying.

The paradox of the stage actor is the paradox of the Christian actor - we must put forth effort to be conformed to our roles (both on stage and in life); but the true conformation happens at a level that is a gift from God and that is beyond our human control.  Effort and abandon, like Faith and Works, always paradoxically go together.



... which is a kind of clericalism.  For if an actor functions as a type of priest - connecting the audience to "the gods" revealed by the playwright and by the structure of the play's action, functioning as a pontifex or bridge builder - then it's very tempting to treat actors the way many Catholics treat clergy - to worship the creature rather than the Source the creature points to.  And of course nothing good comes from this, either for the audience that, in idolatrous zeal, worships a mere man; or for the mere man this audience worships.  For it's never easy for all of us matinee idols (who are, literally, idols) to say, as Paul and Barnabas did when the inhabitants of Lystra saw them working miracles and began worshiping them as gods, 

"Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them." - (Acts 14:15)

That is our role as actors, to point our audiences to the God "who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them".  It is a priestly function.  It bridges the gap between the audience and God, by bringing written words to life, by continuing God's work of making the Word become flesh.

The applause, therefore, is never about us.  And if we're booed, it's because we assert our own identities into the material - the audience sees behind the mask to the actor who is giving a listless performance, or cannot become engaged in the liturgy because the priest is asserting his own identity by making stuff up, or become distracted because the musicians are turning themselves into the center of attention, rather than the God the Divine Drama points to.

***

So, to paraphrase Shakespeare, "The play's the thing wherein we'll catch a glimpse of the King of Kings."



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Comparing God's Grace to a Kidney Transplant

This picture actually has to do with the story and it not merely gratuitous.  Read on!

This is a true story told to my actress and me by one of our friends on the road last week.  I have changed the names to protect the innocent, and also because I don't remember the actual names, anyway.

Larry was married to Ruth, and one day Larry found out that he needed a new kidney or he'd die.  Ruth prevailed upon her brother Steve, who agreed to donate one of his good kidneys to Larry.
Larry received his brother-in-law's good kidney, and it saved his life. 
But Larry started having an affair with the recovery room nurse from the hospital where he received his transplant.  Within two weeks, Larry moved out and dumped his wife, whose brother had just saved his life.
The brother-in-law and the wife sued Larry, claiming that there was an implied contract involved, and that the implication at a minimum was that Larry would be faithful to his wife and stay with her - since, after all, without the wife's efforts and the brother-in-law's kidney, Larry would simply be dead.
Larry argued that it's not legal in this country to sell body parts, and that Steve's kidney was donated as a gift, and that therefore there was no contract, implied or express - for it would have been a violation of law had there been.
Larry won.

And I thought, there's a deep lesson in theology behind this.

Love is always a grace.  All God's gifts to as are gratuitous, unearned, unmerited.  We are saved by grace thorough faith, which works through love.  The heart of our existence and of our salvation is grace - a free gift.  That's the origin of it and that's the core of it.

Technically, then, there is no implied contract - for the nature of a gift requires no payment and exacts no reciprocation; and grace is always given freely; otherwise it's not grace, but a barter, a contract, a transaction.  And grace (like love) transcends all of that.

And yet any normal human being is revolted by Larry and by what he did.  We know that, while he's right technically and from a legal standpoint, he is utterly wrong morally.  He's right, but he ain't good.

For there is a reciprocation to grace that is fitting.  It's called gratitude, saying "thank you" to God and to our neighbors.  This is done through wonder, prayer, upright moral living, even suffering and sacrifice.  It's not done by running off with the nurse you met in the recovery room (even if she looks like the gal in the picture above).  It's not done by sticking with your own narrow sins and constricted agendas, despite what God has given you.  It's not done by shutting yourself off from God's grace and from the response it doesn't demand from you, but that it ought to elicit from you all the same.

And if any of you are like me or my actors, who tend to love unwisely, and who tend to give and give and give without getting anything back, realize that reciprocity is at the heart of our response to God and to our response to others and their response to us.  Love is not a business transaction, but it only bears fruit if it involves a give and take - given and taken out of sheer grateful delight.


In brief, the response to a good kidney is to be a good liver.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Marquette Martyr and the Power of Prayer

My friend Frank Weathers has posted about the reported beheading by ISIS of photojournalist James Foley, a graduate of Marquette University.

Frank quotes and links to a moving piece Foley wrote on the power of prayer.

Foley joins the ranks of Christian martyrs.  May God have mercy on his family and friends and on all those suffering in the Middle East.  James Foley, pray for us!




I'm Just Down the Road from Ferguson

In fact, here's the cake in Ferguson, Missouri that Karen and I photographed in June.  It's in the revived downtown, which is filled with local shops, black and white owners, a charming area.

The cake is to the right, above the bench.

The situation in Ferguson is complex, and I'll add what I can as a lifelong resident of the St. Louis area.

St. Louis has long been a very segregated town.  The city of St. Louis is an independent city, not in any county.  Though my father grew up in North St. Louis, for my whole life North St. Louis has been black and South St. Louis white.  Now, however, pretty much the whole city is black, with a few white enclaves here and there.  Rehabbers who come in and "gentrify" city neighborhoods are white and very liberal and childless.

St. Louis County surrounds the city of St. Louis on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River.  North St. Louis County is mostly black; South St. Louis County (where I live) is mostly white.  25 years ago Ferguson (which is in North County) was a white working lower-middle-class suburb, comprised of North St. Louis city residents who moved out of the city when what is called the "white flight" began.  The black presence in Ferguson is fairly recent, and is apparently comprised of the next generation of migrants from North St. Louis, who are now black.  This is why the Ferguson city counsel and the police force is still almost entirely white - the change in racial mixture in Ferguson is fairly recent.  And for whatever reason, the blacks have not yet caught up politically there.

On the Illinois side of the river, there are a number of communities which are either all black or all white, including all black East St. Louis, which is consistently listed as one of the most violent cities in America.  Belleville, Illinois is the exception, as Belleville is mixed, though the neighborhoods in Belleville are either all black or all white.

There seemed to be much more racial tension in St. Louis a generation ago, though if you look at Facebook groups dedicated to the situation in Ferguson or to comments at the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, you'll see there's still plenty of racism seething below the surface.

I was out of town all of last week when this situation first exploded, and from what I can see it's pretty complex.  There are a number of factors that play into it - racism, poverty, unemployment, outside agitation, a history of police brutality, the extreme militarization of the local police force - who are untrained and who are embarrassing my military friends, the lack of political leadership, the fact that most protesters are peaceful but the violent ones are causing a ton of trouble, the effect of the shocking images of a kind of civil war in the streets, and the shooting that started it all - which could be justified or could not be justified, as only an impartial examination of evidence will tell.

Meanwhile, here are a few other views of the Ferguson cake.  Here are all my posts on the Cakeway to the West project.  Quite honestly, we've put our picture taking on hold, as most of the remaining cakes are in neighborhoods that aren't too safe to begin with, much less at a time when this much rage is brewing.


The cake is near the lower left in this shot.  It appears storm clouds were gathering over Ferguson, even in June.





The Spirit of Antichrist comes to your Local Parish!



Miss Anita Moore, O.P., Esq. (Third Order Dominican) left a stirring comment on my recent post "Muzak for the Spirit".  She had culled this comment from a post on her own blog (V for Victory).

It's clear that Miss Moore is a gifted writer, as you can see here where she asks if the modern suburban Mass is inspiring saints.  She calls this shopping mall inspired narcissistic self-worship the Cruise Ship of Peter, in contrast to the Barque of Peter ...

All are welcome aboard the Cruise Ship of Peter -- they even have a song about it that they sing at the beginning of Mass! -- all, that is, except anyone who might rock the boat.  What might the Cruise Ship do, one is tempted to wonder, with a Francis of Assisi, or a Dominic de Guzman, or a Catherine of Siena, or an Alphonsus Liguori, or a Fulton Sheen?  Would they have to walk the plank?  How much has the Cruise Ship liturgy to do with immemorial tradition?  Does it inspire missionaries and fortify martyrs?  Does it remotely resemble the Masses of Aquinas, wrapped in awe; or those of the Recusants in Elizabethan England, where it was death to be a priest; or of Father Willie Doyle on makeshift altars in the muddy trenches of the First World War; or of the Cristeros in their secret refuges from the Masonic Mexican regime; or of the first and only Mass celebrated by Bl. Karl Leisner, secretly ordained in Dachau on Gaudete Sunday, 1944, desperately ill yet on fire for souls?  Can one picture Father Augustine Tolton on board, his soul blazing like a beacon from the crumbling lighthouse of his overworked body, his trembling hands raised amid the mellow strains of "On Eagle's Wings"?

It's a strong post, written with that kind of zeal throughout.

But I want to focus on her own quotation of Bishop Fulton Sheen, with which she begins her post.  (I leave the words in red, as Moore herself features them) ...

The modern world, which denies personal guilt and admits only social crimes, which has no place for personal repentance but only public reforms, has divorced Christ from His Cross; the Bridegroom and Bride have been pulled apart. What God hath joined together, men have torn asunder. As a result, to the left is the Cross; to the right is the Christ ... The Western post-Christian civilization has picked up the Christ without His Cross. But a Christ without a sacrifice that reconciles the world to God is a cheap, feminized, colorless, itinerant preacher who deserves to be popular for His great Sermon on the Mount, but also merits unpopularity for what He said about His Divinity on the one hand, and divorce, judgment, and hell on the other. This sentimental Christ is patched together with a thousand commonplaces. ... Without His Cross, He becomes nothing more than a sultry precursor of democracy or a humanitarian who taught brotherhood without tears.  
Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ

Sheen elsewhere says that the spirit of antichrist is exactly this separation of Christ and His cross.

This sounds a bit unscriptural, for St. John tells us something a bit different, doesn't  he? ...

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:2-3

But, as Chesterton points out (and as I have quoted elsewhere), crucifixion is the "inevitable result of
incarnation".  So, in denying the cross of Christ, we are denying the full effects of the incarnation of God - and this is the spirit of antichrist.

The sham Christ - the "cheap, feminized, colorless, itinerant preacher" - and his smooth-sailing Cruise Ship of Peter are not just matters of taste.  Bland as they are, inoffensive and universally tolerant as they try to be, they are the expression of the most horrible and demonic thing on earth.