Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Deification of Desire

From an email to a friend ...

I thought about Christopher West when I read an article recently about how the Evangelicals are no longer saying "Jesus is the reason for the season" and encouraging people to focus more on Christ and less on consumerism during the holidays.  Now they focus on the so-called War on Christmas, demanding that stores allow employees to say "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays".  This is an interesting shift, because the battle in Evangelical circles used to be Jesus vs. Shopping.  Now it's Shopping-for-Jesus.

And all young Evangelicals I know simply sleep around.  They don't think anything of it.  They think promiscuity and faith can go hand in hand.

Christopher West is all about the deification of desire.  He tries to turn sexual desire into a way to find God - which is a deeply Pagan attitude.  Evangelicals are doing the same.  Shopping is a Christian thing and should be "Christianized".  Promiscuity is fine and dandy.  And their politics is infused with religious fervor.  They don't want politicians to be Christ-like; they want Christ to affirm them in their political ideology.  Christ serves commercialism, capitalism, sex and politics.  He makes our desires in those fields "Christian".  We don't submit those activities to Him and His demands; we demand that He submit to our desires so that we can feel justified in them.

And this is what's going on in the Catholic Church ALMOST EVERYWHERE.  It's nearly ubiquitous.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How People Argue "Eristically"

In philosophy and rhetoric, eristic (from Eris, the ancient Greek goddess of chaos, strife, and discord) refers to argument that aims to successfully dispute another's argument, rather than searching for truth. - Wikipedia
You know you're in an eristic or bad faith discussion with someone when he or she does the following ...
  • Your opponent refuses to engage the most important points you're making.
  • Your opponent focuses on issues that are minor or tangential to your main argument.
  • Your opponent demands evidence to support your tangential points, while providing only opinion and no evidence to support his own claims.
  • Your opponent directly or indirectly attacks your motivations, thus moving the discussion away from the issue to your character.
  • Invariably, if you're arguing with an eristic "Devout Catholic", you'll be told (in so many words) to go to confession for defending your position with any zeal, fortitude or persistence; or, in lieu of that, you'll be referred to a Scripture verse that implies that you are lacking in charity for standing up for the truth.
  • Your opponent will completely ignore tone, context and the obvious connection between ideas in anything you say.
It is futile to argue with such a person.  Your opponent is not interested in discovering the truth.  To engage such a person is not only frustrating and a waste of time, it is a sin.  It is casting "pearls before swine" (Mat. 7:6)

Monday, October 23, 2017

GK Chesterton Responds to Pope Francis

This is from The Everlasting Man.  My emphases of his text in boldface; my comments in italics.  He is speaking here on the view of Marriage as presented by Our Lord (see Mat. 19)

What he [Jesus] advanced
was something quite different; something very difficult; but something
no more difficult now than it was then. When, for instance, Mahomet made
his polygamous compromise we may reasonably say that it was conditioned
by a polygamous society. When he allowed a man four wives he was really
doing something suited to the circumstances, which might have been less
suited to other circumstances. Nobody will pretend that the four wives
were like the four winds, something seemingly a part of the order of
nature; nobody will say that the figure four was written for ever in
stars upon the sky.

[Chesterton is implying here that Christ is asserting that the nature of Christian Marriage is "part of the order of nature", a fidelity that is somehow "for ever written in the stars upon the sky" in the way no worldly compromise could be.

But neither will anyone say that the figure four is
an inconceivable ideal; that it is beyond the power of the mind of man
to count up to four; or to count the number of his wives and see whether
it amounts to four.

[Chesterton is using humor here to illustrate a point.  "The Islamic view of Marriage is an impossible ideal for me!  How on earth am I to count my wives and assure myself that I have only four?  It can't be done!"]

It is a practical compromise carrying with it the
character of a particular society.

[This is Chesterton's point.  Mohammed's compromise on marriage was a compromise with the Middle Eastern pagan society and culture of his day.  Christ's teaching on Marriage - and therefore the Church's - is no compromise at all, and certainly not with the world or the world's "compromised" attitude toward love, matrimony and fidelity.]  

If Mahomet had been born in Acton in
the nineteenth century, we may well doubt whether he would instantly
have filled that suburb with harems of four wives apiece. As he was born
in Arabia in the sixth century, he did in his conjugal arrangements
suggest the conditions of Arabia in the sixth century. But Christ in his
view of marriage does not in the least suggest the conditions of
Palestine of the first century. He does not suggest anything at all,
except the sacramental view of marriage as developed long afterwards by
the Catholic Church.

[Christ taught something in the Gospels that was only fully expressed later.  His teaching on Marriage is radically unworldly and new, and not the least conditioned by the world around him - either the Roman attitude toward Marriage or the Jewish.  It was a new thing, a suddenly and startlingly right thing - and insisting on it was one of the reasons people were furious with Him.] 

It was quite as difficult for people then as for
people now. It was much more puzzling to people then than to people now.
Jews and Romans and Greeks did not believe, and did not even understand
enough to disbelieve, the mystical idea that the man and the woman had
become one sacramental substance. 

[It is this central teaching of Jesus on Marriage that the Catholic Church has always defended, with true mercy and not a parody of mercy - mercy for those abandoned by their spouses and mercy for the broken children of broken families, as well as mercy for those who do the breaking and who repent of it.  The worldly pressure to compromise or abandon this teaching today is enormous and it has infested the Church at every level.  But of all the Catholic doctrines based on the teachings of Christ, this is perhaps the one with the most Scriptural support.  When it comes to Marriage, Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation and elsewhere refuses to clarify; Jesus in the Gospel refuses to be vague.  If the Catholic Church folds on "the mystical idea that the man and the woman become one sacramental substance", or that rejecting this idea by an ongoing sin throws the sinner out of full communion with Christ, the Church will have folded indeed. If the Bride of Christ abandons Marriage she will have abandoned the bridegroom Himself.] 

We may think it an incredible or
impossible ideal; but we cannot think it any more incredible or
impossible than they would have thought it. In other words, whatever
else is true, it is not true that the controversy has been altered by
time. Whatever else is true, it is emphatically not true that the ideas
of Jesus of Nazareth were suitable to his time, but are no longer
suitable to our time. Exactly how suitable they we to his time is
perhaps suggested in the end of his story.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Charlie Johnston Exposed!

Here are some observations by Dr. Jim Dooley on Charlie Johnston.  ...

Written October 14, 2017.
Charlie Johnston is a false prophet and most probably a fraud.  I can’t guess with complete certainty if he is a fraud / liar, delusional / mentally ill, or deceived by demons.  However, it really doesn’t matter; he’s any combination of the above.  He’s now wrong – yet again.  He’s racking up quite a collection of totally failed, so - called prophecies:  
  • He predicted that there’d be no peaceful transfer of power.
  • He predicted that Barack Obama would extend his term.
  • He predicted that President Trump wouldn’t be sworn in.
  • He predicted that the next American leader wouldn’t come from the normal electoral process.
  • He predicted we’d witness this as a sign from God, so we would believe.
  • He predicted the breakout of a world – wide civil war AND a complete economic collapse.
  • He predicted that during the period from October 13 to October 17, 2017, we’d be totally, visibly & miraculously delivered via the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  
  • He predicted that virtually the entire global population would convert to Catholicism.
  • He predicted that our infrastructure would be broken down & we’d be simplified.
  • Wrong on every prediction; that’s a perfect record!

We must note that he has been forbidden by his Archbishop to speak at any
church – owned properties and his followers have twice been strongly advised by the Archdiocese to, first, place their faith only in Jesus, the Scriptures and the Sacraments, and, second, to avoid trying to interpret his failed prophecies as valid.  The Magisterium has spoken.  Period.  Yet he still publishes articles on his blog, ‘The Next Right Step.’

Additionally, he has a cult - like following, which troubles me greatly.  He claims
to say simply that everyone must take the next right step and be a sign of hope to those around them.  Obviously, we don’t need Charlie to tell us to perform acts of charity towards others, especially when the world is in dire straits, which we can all clearly observe by simply viewing the nightly news, i.e. gay ‘marriage’, global wars, etc.  Thank you for stating the obvious, Charlie.  

I have nothing personal against Charlie, who’s a fellow Catholic.  Yet, significantly & deeply troubling, he used his alleged supernatural “prophecies” to initially attract and subsequently maintain, & actually augment, what has evolved into a cult – like following.  He obviously basks in the attention.  He also repeatedly scrubbed negative comments from his blog, allowing only supportive ones from his cult members to remain.  Finally, he attempted to spin a clear smack down from two separate Catholic Bishops, the Archbishop of Denver and the Bishop of Bismark, into something positive.  

He’s been proven to be a complete fraud yet again; has been proven false numerous times, and must be given no more platform, ever!  Yet, despite his repeated false and failed predictions, he has the unbelievable audacity to continue to post articles on his blog ‘TNRS / Abraham’s Journey”.  He has quietly returned and posted numerous articles on his blog, despite his promise to vanish from the public scene if he was proven false – which he has been.  He quietly returned, clearly for his own selfish and egocentric reasons.  At least have the honor to vanish.

He, his blog, and emails from ‘TNRS / Abraham’s Journey’ should be shunned.  The next right step must be to add Charlie to the dust bin of failed prophets & complete frauds.  Prayers for those whom he hurt, deceived & misled - and for him.  Charlie, and his dubious intentions, remain in our Rosary.  Ave Maria, Stella Maris!


Thanks to Jim for going through the effort to document all of Charlie's false prophecies - though it will make no difference to Charlie's True Believers.

The reason I finally stopped blogging at Waiting for Godot to Leave was that some of my readers continued to make excuses for Charlie, even after he admitted lying about his claim that he and I had emailed one another. 

Charlie's followers - if they still continue to put any faith in this man - are getting exactly what they deserve.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

No Hell Below Us, Above Us Only Sky

It's almost a commonplace that hell is never mentioned in most Catholic homilies anymore, nor is it even alluded to.  But it's even more of a problem that heaven, while never mentioned by name (out of

embarrassment, I think), is even more misunderstood than hell.

As to the banishment of hell, you need look no further than today's Mass readings, which feature Our Lord's parable of the invited guests, many of whom ignore the invitation to come in to the feast.  The parable ends with a stern warning about hell ...

But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. 
The king said to him, 'My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?'
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'
Many are invited, but few are chosen." (Mat. 22:11-14)

The text of this dramatic ending of the reading is bracketed by the bishops - which means it is optional for the priest or deacon to read it.

Our priest today opted not to read the conclusion of the parable, which served to achieve the obvious: the parable loses its sting, and in some ways is robbed of its main point.

His homily reminded me of what you'll experience at most Catholic parishes at the Easter Sunday Mass.  "Hey, everybody!  Lent is over!  We can go back to eating chocolate!!!"  The Resurrection is shorn of its true joy and drained of any real depth, even psychological depth.

For our universe has been flattened.  Banish the terrors of hell and you end up with a hole where heaven ought to be.  "No hell below us, above us only sky," as John Lennon wrote - though I'm not even sure the sky is up there anymore.

Heaven has become either an all-you-can-eat buffet - which is more of less what the wedding feast symbolized in Our Lord's parable, according to our homilist - or a place where everybody is nice and smiles at one another - a kind of psych ward for lobotomy patients.

And while the Kingdom of God is among us, and we get glimpses of it in the unsung bravery and love of the many ordinary people in our lives, that fleeting sense of a "joy beyond the walls of this world, poignant as grief" is utterly absent from our typical notions of eternal life with the Holy Trinity and the saints.

 I think this kind of culture - or, more accurately, this vapid lack of culture - which, aside from the sacraments, is the only thing put forward in the Catholic Church at the typical parish level these days - this kind of anti-culture bears this kind of fruit.  It produces the young men who do things like this.

The transcendent exists.  It is in a more fundamental way than we are - but if we can't approach the transcendent (either heaven or hell) at church, then where can we approach it?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Naming the Heresy

From an email to a friend ...


I keep searching for the name of the general attitude that unites liberal Catholics (including some bishops and cardinals) with the gender-bending secularists of our day.  I'm trying to find a better word than "Modernism", which is too vague and has lost most of its punch.  The key mistaken belief of the liberalists / nihilists seems to be that we create meaning, we don't discover it.  But what's the word for that belief, and for a life lived in accord with that belief?

Here's a phrase that works from an article on a website called Areo ...

In Plato’s Theaetetus, Socrates inferred that the major weakness of philodoxy is the inevitable capitulation to crowd-speak. Specifically, Socrates made fun of Protagoras’s homo-mensura, which asserts, “Man is the measure of all things.” For clarity’s sake, the homo-mensura can be interpreted as this: “The human-animal’s perceptions and opinions determine the value of all things.” According to Socrates, Protagoras may as well have asserted, “Pig is the measure of all things,” or, “Baboon is the measure,” since those creatures also possess “the power of perception.” Protagoras, foiled by his own maxim, is “no better authority than a tadpole, let alone any other man.” If Protagoras’s homo-mensura is truly so weak, why does anyone bother to uphold it? One possible answer: it makes crowds happy. As the ancient progenitor of truthiness and alternative facts, the homo-mensura helps sophists win over audiences. “Everyone’s opinions are meaningful and valuable! You can decide on any scientific, political or artistic subject for yourself!” (Cue applause.) The worst effect of the homo-mensura is that it renders futile any attempt to examine or refute “each other’s ostentations and judgments,” for each individual demands respect and narcissistic recognition. “This is surely an extremely tiresome piece of nonsense,” Socrates decided.

For “Everyone’s opinions are meaningful and valuable! You can decide on any scientific, political or artistic subject for yourself!” (Cue applause) substitute, "Your individual situation determines the morality of your actions!  You can decide what is right and what is wrong!  For God Himself is asking you to put yourself in that position!  It's what He wants!" (Cue applause.)

When Man becomes the Measure of all things, then God no longer sets the bar.  In fact, for all practical purposes, God no longer exists.  We can ignore His teaching on adultery or on anything at all.  He does not set the measure.  We do.

Because, we are homo-mensuristsand because, we are secretly certain, we are God.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Russians are Coming!

And here's something I've been pondering.  I can understand people's concern over Russia using Facebook to influence our election.  But how is Russian propaganda different from US Democratic or Republican or corporate or Think Thank propaganda?  If we're concerned that Russia can use keenly targeted psychological manipulation of voters - what about advertising in general and the domestic forces that do the same?  If I found out that our water supply in St. Louis were being poisoned by Russia, I'd be no happier to learn that, on the contrary, it was being poisoned by Disney.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

I Would If I Could

The admiration for the successful demagogue is admiration for the strongman from afar. "That's how I would live! I won't because I'm Christian - but I would if I could!" But, as Jesus tells us, what's inside the cup is what needs to be cleaned, because "I would if I could" becomes "I will when I can" - and so, for instance, with porn now being ubiquitous, guys simply use it. Christians could pretend to be sexually pure 50 years ago, but now that affirming the temptation has become effortless, we men in general find out what we're really made of. "I would if I could" becomes "I will when I can".

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Our Insipid Faith

From an email to a student ...

Today I wanted to quote one short Bible verse that really struck home for me yesterday.

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.  (Mat. 5:13)

One of the versions of that verse at the link above translates it thus, "if salt becomes insipid, with what will it be salted?"

INSIPID is a great word.  It means not only "tasteless", but stupid, inane, unable to cause excitement.

The original Greek word in this passage (Mat. 5:13) is μωραίνω, a word that means both "tasteless" and "stupid" or "foolish", and is a word related to the English word "moron".  Elsewhere in the New Testament, this word is translated as "stupid" or "foolish".

I'm sorry to say that almost everything we do officially as the Catholic Church is "insipid".  This is not true for EWTN or the American Chesterton Society, for instance, but it is true at 95% of the parishes I visit in my travels, and it is true in the lives of most Devout Catholics I know.  The vast majority of Catholics I know do not know their faith, do not care about their faith, and do not practice their faith.  The small percentage I know who are Devout Catholics tend to be INSIPID.  They are like the architecture and music and homilies in the suburban Church.

I am trying to be careful not to rant here, because it's easy to get caught in a toxic mood about this sort of thing.  But I am describing something very real and spiritually deadly.

As a group, Catholics have become insipid.  Why would anybody want to be Catholic?  We have no character.  We are inspired by nothing.  We smile a cheesy smile, and our communion with one another is as lame as the "sign of peace" at Mass.

I'm a crabby old man, but what I'm saying is true.  We should be on fire.  We have the strength of the cross behind us.  We have a God who descended into the darkness and muck and mire of our worst sins to save us.  We have a glorious rehabilitation at our fingertips.  We have life and joy and the pungent taste of love, true love, love that fears nothing.

If all your life you've been taught (as most Catholics have been taught), "Jesus was nice, you be nice, too," you've been taught a lie.  He loves us with a love that is not "nice".  He loves us with a love that would do anything for us.  He loves us with a love that shocks and disturbs us.  The cross is never "nice".

And that's how we should love, too.

Because we are the salt of the earth.  And if we become tasteless, insipid, foolish, limp, lame, lifeless and dull, we are only fit to be thrown out and trampled under foot.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Great Divide

From an email to a young person ...

We live in a time where the world is split in two.  

It's not so much Trump supporters vs. Trump haters.  It's people who think life has meaning vs. people are think it doesn't.  Those who think it doesn't have a variety of solutions to this problem, most of which entail imposing your own so-called meaning on life, while spending your time indulging your various appetites.  Because if life has no meaning, then there is no God, no sin, no virtue, no point to anything.  (Contraception illustrates that there is no point to anything, including sex.)  And what optimism we find in this camp of nihilists is the optimism that we can make the best of a terribly bleak and depressing situation.  Life is pointless, but let's go around being nice anyway.

The Catholic Church has been infected by this.  Most Catholics think of religion as a stopgap, as something you do to fill time or give yourself consolation, or as a way to get together with others, or as a way to express religious longings and desires, but as nothing more than that.  The problem is, this is the attitude of many priests and bishops and this is taught implicitly or expressly at many seminaries.  

Today a Catholic family told me the story of how they sponsored a talk at the seminary where the husband works.  They brought in a Catholic celebrity to give a talk, and he talked on the sinfulness of homosexual acts, and after the talk, he was confronted by a group of priests from the seminary, all of whom were furious with him and one of whom argued vehemently with him.  After the argument, the speaker asked for the priest's blessing, and as he blessed him, the priest said, "I absolve you of your sins" - meaning his sins of pointing out the wrongness of sodomy.  Imagine that.

When the reality of religion dies, what's left is a prop or an empty shell, or worse, a weapon to be used against others.  For many priests, the Church is something to shelter, protect and defend their perversions, and nothing more.  It's really that bad.  In fact, in some ways it's worse.

But there remain a few serious priests and bishops, faithful to Jesus and to what He teaches and leads us to.  But even if all clergy were to abandon the Faith, even if all our family and friends were to abandon the Faith, we must be true, for we know life has meaning, and that it's a meaning that's revealed to us, not a so-called meaning that we arbitrarily impose, and that the deepest truth of the meaning of life is revealed by Christ on the Cross.

And yet, in our own circles of Devout Catholics, we (quite naturally) develop a fortress mentality.  We are shocked at how most of the world is on the other side of this great divide.  Most of the culture around us is thoroughly atheist (people who believe life has no meaning must, whether they realize it or not, be atheists).  And we are stuck like the Catholic speaker, being berated by people we thought were with us, but who are actually against us - and who are even going so far as to abuse the sacraments in an attempt to defeat us.

And yet the fortress mentality is not good.  We must be on the offensive, not the defensive.  The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Mat. 16:18), and this image means that we must be attacking the gates of darkness and despair, not huddled in fear behind our own moats and drawbridges.  We must go out and actively love our neighbors, as an expression of our love of God.  

Because, you see, atheism is very painful.  It is unnatural.  It makes people unhappy, even though they think the sins they choose are fun and even though they clutch at them.  It goes against every fiber of our being, because we are made for God.

And so, in this day and age when it's so clunky out there, don't forget that everybody wants to love, everybody wants to be loved, and no one will see the face of God unless they see it through the things He has made - including us.  We must radiate His face.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Prediction

I am deliberately avoiding politics on this blog, but I want to make a prediction.  This is not a statement in support of President Trump or in criticism of him.  It's a statement of what I think is going to happen.

If I'm right, I will be the first person that I know of to predict this.

When the Bill Clinton scandal started about 20 years ago, I predicted early on (privately, to my family and friends) that it would eventually come to nothing because the average person would not care that Clinton perjured himself over sex acts in the White House.  I thought that was a shame, but I thought that would be the case, and I was right.

This time around, things have been far too murky to make any predictions in a similar vein.

Until today.

If this article in The Atlantic is correct, then Trump is toast.

If the article is correct, if the surmises are true, and judging from the speed at which this investigation is proceeding and the direction it's apparently taking, then this is about much more than Russia, it's about what is perhaps a lifetime of criminal activity.  And if that's the case, Trump will eventually resign, on the condition (stated or not) that he and his family are pardoned.

It may take two more years, but Trump will not complete his term.

They've got him.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Gospel Message

And I think He's saying that the Kingdom, if we respond to it, that the truth of it and the power of it will become manifest in our lives, for such is the purpose of God. Notice what it says after this in the third saying, "Take heed, then, how you hear." That's exactly what I have been saying. "Take heed, then, how you hear, for to him who has, more will be given, and from him who has not, even that which he thinks he has will be taken away." If you've got a glimmer of the truth, press for more. And more will be given to you. If you're content, saying, "I think I've got something", when it's really next to nothing, even that will be taken away. "Take heed how you hear." Listen up, search, inquire, question, be hungry for God. Press in. You get no credit whatsoever for attending a lecture, or clocking in and clocking out of Mass. Open your heart to Him and hunger for Him. And change your life. And together we need to reflect this light to the world. He will bless us.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

What I've Never Heard at Mass

Maturity in Christ?

From an email to a friend ...


This week, in my regular Scripture readings, I read Ephesians chapter 4, which is pretty much the heart of Paul's theology of regeneration in Christ.  It is the great and profound mystery that we don't hear a whisper of from the pulpit - at least I haven't in any single Mass I've been to in the last 17 years.  But it is at the center of what the Faith is.  

We are remade in Christ.  As Christians, who we are is different from what we were.  We experience a change in our being: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

I have never heard that mentioned at any Church I've been to, beyond the readings.  It may be read by the lector, but it's never preached by the priest or deacon.  And it is as unbelievable as the Resurrection.  "If Christ be not raised, then is our faith in vain, and we are the most miserable of men, and we are still in our sins."  If the Resurrection is false, then we are all fools and we should burn down the churches and stay in bed on Sundays.

And - crazy as the Resurrection sounds - even crazier is the belief that our natures are being remade.  "You have been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him in faith."  

And even more difficult for modern Christians: we are all supposed to be growing into Christ.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Growing up as Christians, becoming "mature", "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ", no longer "infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ."

We are not only to mature in Christ as individuals, but as a Body, conforming ourselves to Him who is our head, Jesus.  When we mature in Christ, the Church matures in Christ, and we grow into the fullness of Him as a Body.

The "fullness of Christ" to which we are to strive is (in this passage from Ephesians 4) derived from the Greek work πλήρωμα (pleroma), meaning fullness and completion and final perfection.  In Colossians, Paul uses this word to extol the divinity of Jesus: "For in Him dwells all the fullness (πλήρωμα) of God in His body".  

Pleroma is a mature completeness, and in Christ it is the fullness and completeness of a man who is God.  

But this is lacking in our whole vision of our faith.

Today a friend told me about an atheist she knows who now wants to pray and be Christian. My friend kept giggling and talking about the "miracle" of this atheist's conversion, but there was no hint of the reality of it.  It's as if the game is won.  The story is over.  He's Christian, no longer atheist.  End of story.  Ta da!  

But what of the reality of who this man is?  What of the struggles and disappointments he's bound to face?  What of the next step, maturity in Christ?  Who can lead him from infancy in the gospel to maturity, "attaining to the fullness (πλήρωμα)", so that he is not "swept by every wind of doctrine blown by the cunning and craftiness of others"?  Somehow my friend sees this as a game, as a switch you flip, as a yes that drowns out the no, as a complete victory, rather than a wobbly and tentative first step toward the light that is still far away.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Tragedy and Maturity

“The truth of the tragedy is action itself, that is, action on the new, differentiated level of a movement in the soul that culminates in the decision . . . of a mature, responsible man. . . . Tragedy as a form is the study of the human soul in the process of making decisions, while the single tragedies construct conditions and experimental situations, in which a fully developed, self-conscious soul is forced into action.”

My gosh, this is tremendous.

It's Eric Voegelin, and again I am alone among my friends in loving this guy.  

"A fully developed, self-conscious soul" is spoudaios - "Serious, earnest person. Aristotle's term for the `mature' rational and ethical person, the fully developed human being capable of intelligent thought and responsible decision and action."

But in our world, and most remarkably in the Church at large, consequence is divorced from action, and maturity is divorced from Christ.  We see ourselves as infants saved from nothing by a God who makes no demands.

As Niebuhr said, making fun of the theology of the day in most American churches, "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."

And that's not tragic.  That's pathetic.

Monday, June 19, 2017

St. Flannery of Milledgeville

I am reading Flannery's O'Connor's letters.  I was bored until her correspondence from 1955.  Before then, she was writing to friends about money, book deals, things she was reading.  But in 1955, she took up a correspondence with a woman from Atlanta, a Pagan pantheist / agnostic who is referred to as "Miss A."  Suddenly Flannery confronts the Big Questions and the result is awesome.  Here are some selections from Flannery O'Connor's correspondence with "Miss A."  ...

... our salvation is worked out on earth according as we love one another, see Christ in one another, etc., by works.  This is one reason I am chary of using the word, love, loosely.  I prefer to use it in its practical forms, such as prayer, almsgiving, visiting the sick and burying the dead and so forth.

... the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed.  It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it ...
One of the awful things about writing when you are a Christian is that for you the ultimate reality is the Incarnation, the present reality is the Incarnation, the whole reality is the Incarnation, and nobody believes in the Incarnation; that is, nobody in your audience.  My audience are the people who think God is dead.  At least these are the people I am conscious of writing for.
As for Jesus' being a realist: if He was not God, He was no realist, only a liar, and the crucifixtion an act of justice.
Dogma can in no way limit a limitless God.  The person outside the Church attaches a different meaning to it than the person in.  For me a dogma is only a gateway to contemplation and is an instrument of freedom and not of restriction.

That last one is great.  Eric Voegelin was all about contemplation of God, and he thought dogma got in the way of that.  But Flannery says dogma "preserves the mystery".  And yet how many Christians use dogma as something that incites to further prayer or wonder?  Many use dogma as the end of the question, not the beginning of it.

More from St. Flannery ...

Whether you are a Christian or not, we both worship the God Who Is.  St. Thomas on his death bed said of the Summa, "it's all straw," - this was in the vision of that God.

And here we have her using a metaphor that I have also used.  Of conversion or membership in the Church, she said ...

I suppose it is like marriage, that when you get into it, you find it is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle to make love work.

Now that is brilliant - from a woman who was never married.  Marriage is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle to make love work.  That's very true indeed.

Flannery is reluctant to write about purity, calling it the most mysterious of virtues.

... it occurs to me that it would never have entered the human consciousness to conceive of purity if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace, in the way they were in Christ.  The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature. 
Elsewhere she says of purity ...

... it is an acceptance of what God wills for us, an acceptance of our individual circumstances.

And then she throws off lines like this.  She says she does not like to write about "the poor" ...

I won't say the poor, because I don't like to distinguish them.  Everybody, as far as I am concerned, is The Poor.

I love that!  And she also says some very evocative things like this ...

... I have come to think of sleep as metaphorically connected with the mother of God.  Hopkins said she was the air we breathe, but I have come to realize her most in the gift of going to sleep.  Life without her would be equivalent to me to life without sleep and as she contained Christ for a time, she seems to contain our life in sleep for a time so that we are able to wake up in peace.

And this is perhaps one of the greatest lines in all of literature, and it's so typically Flannery ...
Well, God rescues us from ourselves if we want Him to.

Yes indeed.  Well, God rescues us from ourselves if we want Him to.  That's perfect theology and perfect poetry and perfectly vernacular.  That should have gone on her tombstone.

And let me quote at length from her letter to Miss A. of Dec. 16, 1955.  She speaks of how she strives in her stories for the moral sense to coincide with the dramatic sense, and then she says this ...

... the devil's moral sense coincides at all points with his dramatic sense.

The devil understands, in other words, the deep connection between our acts (good and evil) and the consequences of our acts.  We would rather pretend as if that connection did not exist.  The devil is braver than that, and peers right into that connection, delighting to send souls to hell.

And here she is speculating on the General Resurrection.

As I understand it, the Church teaches that our resurrected bodies will be intact as to personality, that is, intact with all the contradictions beautiful to you, except the contradiction of sin; sin is the contradiction, the interference, of a greater good by a lesser good.  I look for all variety in that unity but not for a choice: for when all you see will be God, all you will want will be God.

This is why, I would add, we are to be Salt of the Earth.  We are to become more distinct and individually flavorful, not less.

And she includes this in her Dec. 16 letter, one of her most famous quotes and the one thing that people know from her letters ...

I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater.  (She just wrote that book, A Charmed Life, reviewed in Time.)  She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. The people who took me were Robert Lowell and his now wife, Elizabeth Hardwick. Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them. Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the "most portable" person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it." That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest is expendable.

The Body and Blood of Christ is Love Incarnate.  As is marriage, which "is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle to make love work."

Compare Tolkien ...

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament … There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth … which every man’s heart desires”

Sunday, June 4, 2017

What is the Soul?

What is the soul?  It is not the ghost in the machine of our bodies.

This is the soul.  Read on.  It's dense, but I paraphrase after.  From Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History by Eugene Webb ,,, 

If we consider that human existence is constituted as a tension of longing or striving toward conscious participation in reality and that this striving proceeds through reflective mediation in consciousness, we might diagram the total pattern in the following way: The line with the arrowhead in this picture represents the tension of existence both as experienced on the level of immediacy and as articulated in consciousness through the medium of symbolization. “R” stands for reality, in which the inquirer is immediately involved through his participation in existence and which he also comes to know reflectively. As such it is intended to embrace all that is, including the entire process represented in the diagram. The figure in the middle marked with “S” is in the shape of a lens. “S” stands for symbol; this may take the specific form of visual symbols, myths, ideas, philosophical propositions, and so on. It could even take the form of dance or liturgy. Whatever its form, it functions to represent some aspect of the reality attended to through it and to direct inquiry toward that. This is why it is represented in the diagram as a lens; it is not, when it is functioning properly, an object of attention in its own right, but serves as a focusing device to direct attention beyond itself toward the object of interest. It is only through that lens or medium that human existence can attain consciousness and reflective knowledge of the real, even when what is inquired into is human existence.


It is the diagram as a whole that depicts psyche. The symbol psyche refers to the entire process of participation in reality, its symbolization, and the tension that moves and guides the process.

To translate:

We experience reality by a longing for it, a pull toward it, a desire to know it.  We desire Wisdom, which is God, fullness of reality, the satisfaction of our "restless hearts".  This is Eros, the search, the quest, the desire: the straight line in the diagram is the "tension of existence", the tension which all ideologues try to destroy by coming up with Closed Systems (Unrealities).  Many Devout Catholics function as mere ideologues, "quenching the Spirit" (1 Thes. 5:19), suppressing the Question, the "tension of existence" by building a substitute reality.  In the same way that porn can be a substitute for a man's sexual desire, so Unreality is a substitute for our spiritual desire.  Sexual longing is scary because it brings us into relationship, commitment, families, babies, self-sacrifice - all the things that take us outside of ourselves.  Porn and autoeroticism is safe because it gives a substitute payoff without any of the risks, satisfying desire on a basic (or immanent) level while thwarting it on a more remote (or transcendent) level.

The other aspect of this diagram is the "lens" of symbolism or representation.  Beyond the most basic level of the senses, consciousness only seems to function via symbolism (including language, rational thinking, story, art and myth).  If the symbols become mere doxasuperficial appearances or representations that no longer represent, signs that point to nothing beyond themselves, to no greater aspect of reality, if the map becomes more important than the road or the journey's destination, then we have a kind of anti-Mary (not unlike antichrist).  As Mary is the lens whose soul "magnifies the Lord", she represents how living and loving symbols and beings can show us God.  The antimary would be any symbol or being that becomes opaque, allocating God's glory to itself and blocking the light beyond.

And ... according to Eric Voegelin and the ancient Greek philosophers ... this IS the soul, the psyche, this pull toward reality through the lens of life and reflection.

The soul is not the ghost within the body. 

The soul is this deeply moving and illuminating ... and dangerous and risky ... experience.