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”

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.


What It's All About

There's a Life Magazine special issue out about Mary.

At the end of the main article, the writer laments, "If only we had a simply human Mary, that would be enough."

My reaction: We do have a simply human Mary.  No orthodox Christian has ever believed or taught that Mary is anything other than human.  So that should be enough.

My wife's reaction: For people, it's never enough.

And that's really it.  That's what it's all about.  We're a mess.  Insatiable, unhappy, lost - in need of a Savior (though that's not a politically correct thing to say).

You may choose to believe the Gospels or to think of them as mere myths, but what they present in perhaps the most telling and compelling way in all of literature is human nature in its truest form.  

The Father's call throughout the Old Testament, through the voice of his prophets, is "Repent!  Stop doing evil, do good and turn to me.  Otherwise you will face disaster."  That's the message of the Son in the New Testament as well, but we don't want to hear it.

We'd rather have the Buddy Jesus, the Jesus-as-Inner-Self, the Vague Jesus, the Jesus of our Own Desires, the Jesus we can make jump and entertain us.

We don't want a Jesus whose first words are (as in the Gospel according to Mark): "Repent and believe!"

And the Gospels simply tell us what we do when we are given "enough", when we are asked to repent and believe.  What do we do when we are given all that we need?  A loving God, a good man, a man who walks the earth healing and forgiving and asking us to do the same?  What do we do?

We torture Him, mock Him and kill Him. 

No work of literature before or since has ever shown so clearly the Resistance in our Hearts.

Acting and Appearances

SCTV's Bobby Bitman used to say, "As a comic, in all seriousness".  Perhaps I should say, "As an actor, in all sincerity ..." because, of course, acting is the opposite of sincerity in the same way that comedy is the opposite of seriousness.

But that's not really true.  Good acting is authentic or sincere at a very basic level.  Within the framework of the Secondary Reality or Sub-creation of the drama, good acting must be true.  An actor is pretending, and he does not "become" the character in any real sense, except within the confines of the story.  And, as any actor will tell you, the nuances of a character don't fall into place until you "get it", until you get in character, until you act the part from the inside-out.  Until then, it's very difficult in rehearsal to approach a character from the outside-in.  Sometimes the outside trappings of a role - accents or posture or even costumes and make-up - will help an actor adopt that role, but what they help with is the "internalization" of the role.  Real acting happens when you identify with the character.  Once that happens, all of the character's quirks and nuances make sense.  An odd line or motivation or moment that frustrated you in rehearsal may fit into place once you "get in character" and find the key, the truth from which the character operates, the inner reality that makes all of the character's actions a coherent whole.

Elsewhere I've written how this is an analogy for living the Christian Faith.  But it's really an analogy for more than just that.

Behind what we do is who we are.  Behind our lines is our character.  Behind the character is the actor who acts the part.  But in many ways we lose sight of this.

Most people live on the level of appearances.  The essence that the appearances signify, the hidden truth that motivates what we do, the reality behind the bluff, the truth behind the show - we are uncomfortable with this.  We prefer the doxa, the conventional, the external, the outward to the inward.  Even in our faith.  Perhaps especially in our faith.

We are almost never reminded that Christ brings ontological change.  The way from baptism to resurrection is a way of the cross, a death and rebirth.  But we don't want that.  We'd rather fake it with bad hymns and all the trappings that help us keep our faith safely on the surface.  We may not crucify Jesus, but we don't go with Him when he says, "Come, follow me" because we are afraid of what we may find.  We are afraid of the cross and the reality it brings.  We'd prefer to be bad actors, phoning in our parts and cashing the check.  And so the last thing we do is imitate Christ at the basic level of our every day existence.  Anything but that.  Anything but being honest when it's not advantageous to be, being chaste even when every sex act on earth is a mouse click away, being conscientious when it's easier to slack off.

And yet acting this role from the inside-out is the great drama of our lives.

The Warmth of a Corpse

Bl. John Henry Newman on worshiping the Jesus of our choosing rather than the real one:

Meanwhile, the religious world little thinks whither its opinions are leading; and will not discover that it is adoring a mere abstract name or a vague creation of the mind for the Ever-living Son, till the defection of its members from the faith startle it, and teach it that the so-called religion of the heart, without orthodoxy of doctrine, is but the warmth of a corpse, real for a time, but sure to fail.

Translation: The modern church is complacent and oblivious.  We are unconcerned that our bland, emasculated vague Jesus bears no resemblance to the real one, though vast numbers of people leaving Church may startle us [note: so far it hasn't].   This "religion of the heart", this mood of
mere sentimentality that we call the Faith, this tepid and forced excitement, all feeling and no understanding, "without orthodoxy of doctrine", without obedience, virtue or practice is ... well, is "but the warmth of a corpse, real for a time, but sure to fail."

It occurred to me that what I hate and complain about in the Church is not the church.  What I hate and despise in the church is the Ape of God, a foppish parody, no more living than a quickly cooling corpse, real for a time, but sure to fail.


Porn, Facebook and Human Nature

Yesterday Rod Dreher posted an article on pornography on his site.  He begins it with this ...


Whenever I go to a Christian college to speak, I talk to professors, staffers, and campus ministers about what they’re seeing among the students. Two things always come up: 1) far too many of their students know next to nothing about the Christian faith, and 2) pornography is a massive problem.
At one Christian college I visited over the past few months, a professor said, “For the first time, I’m starting to see it becoming a problem for my female students, not just the male ones.” A campus minister who works with young undergraduates headed for professional ministry told me that every single one of the men he mentors has a porn addiction.
Every. Single. One.

He goes on to illustrate how porn has become a problem among elementary school students (including girls in the fourth grade), whose parents have been stupid enough to give them smart phones.

As distressing as this is, the problem is not just masturbation in front of a computer screen.  The problem is that pornography and lust itself (not just sexual desire, but lust) objectifies other people.  Men seem to be wired in such a way that we are more likely to see sex as an experience disconnected from love, marriage or babies - or from humanity, in a sense - than women are.  This is why the gay male culture is so horrific when it comes to promiscuity and brutality.

But we are dealing with a technology that was unimaginable a generation ago.  When I was a kid, pornography was hard to come by.  Now it's ubiquitous.  All varieties of sexual activities are right there in your pocket and can be accessed within mere seconds, even for Christian men who try to avoid the temptation (and don't fool yourself, the addiction is universal, including among devout Christian guys, or as Rod says, "Every.  Single.  One.")  It's as if we're all walking around with a handy supply of heroin that we can rely on for an intense high when we're down or lonely, mad or tired, horny or simply bored.

And, again, it's not the sin of the flesh that is so harmful.  As serious sins go, sins of the flesh are the least harmful, as Christian culture has always recognized.  What's harmful is the spiritual side of this sin.

And the spiritual side of it comes down to this: ABUSE.  We can't just follow our lusts and be happy.  The more we indulge them, the more we think of other people as mere tools and the more we feel contempt for them.  I've experienced this attitude even in Devout Catholic young women, who have probably never viewed pornography, but who are nevertheless steeped in the throwaway culture, a culture that sees not only sex but intimacy and friendship and even basic social interaction as self-serving and cut off from a real encounter with the Other.

This is one of the things that makes Facebook so horrible.  There's a kind of endless posturing, making a show of your beliefs and ridiculing others in the process.  My wife uses Facebook for sharing pictures and keeping up with her friends, but my Facebook friends engage in debates - except they're not debates: they're tirades or polemics or shouting matches, the object of which is to prove you are righteous and that you are justified in viewing the Other with contempt.  Without that final dismissal of the value of the Other, there's no payoff, no "money shot".  Polemic Facebook posts are posturing at best, "rage porn" at worst.

This is why technology is not neutral.  And we are not neutral, either.  We tend toward sin, and must be raised to goodness through grace and hard work.  Given good environments, we can be edified and educated and cultivated toward virtue and happiness.  Given bad environments, we will become abusive - to ourselves and to one another.  We all have this potential.  We can go either way.

Dreher and the people he quotes are right.  Pornography and the entire attitude that accompanies it (including the Rage Porn of Facebook) is the most serious problem in our society today.  And yet I have never heard a homiliy on it.  Ever.  The greatest spiritual threat in the world is simply ignored at the parish level.

The opposite of love is use.  And mere use always become abuse.  And we live in a culture of abuse.

The Rohr of the Crowd

Recently a friend of mine asked me what I thought of Fr. Richard Rohr, and I dismissed him with some sort of comment such as, "Oh, Rohr's books are tea table twaddle."

And, according to Dan Burke, there are, apparently, concerns about Rohr's orthodoxy.

But, while researching for something else on the internet, I came upon a link to Fr. Rohr's book Immortal Diamond: The Search for our True Self.  And I read, with a good deal of interest, an interview with Fr. Rohr (pasted below, with my comments in boldface), as well as perhaps the BEST AMAZON BOOK REVIEW EVER ...

I wonder why it was so hard to folloe.

What folloes below is the interview with Rohr.  Note that it's C. G. Jung warmed over, but it's the best of Jung, which is saying something.  Again, my comments follow (I mean, folloe) each of Rohr's in bracketed boldface.

Q&A with Robert Rohr, author of Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self

Richard Rohr
Q. What do you mean by False Self and True Self?
A. When I use the term False Self, I mean that it is the self we manufacture and adopt to find our identity in the world—our jobs, our occupations, our religion, our culture, our sources of status. False doesn’t mean that it’s bad; it simply means that it's external, passing, that it changes. Everyone has a False Self—you need it to function in the world. True Self is who you are objectively in God. Most religious and spiritual traditions would call it the soul, although it is also mysteriously more than that. You do not create True Self by your own personality or choices or, or experiences. It's nothing that you manufacture or do. It's your innermost, essential being.
[Rohr is describing what Jung called the persona.  Other modern writers use the term "false self" instead of persona, so that they can set up a distinction between "false self" and "true self", instead of Jung's dichotomy of persona and Self.  The problem with Jung is that the Self is "autonomous", or, in effect, deified.  The Self is God, or at lest the Inner God, speaking with a voice that must be obeyed so that the soul may achieve "individuation", which, for Jung and his followers, simply means "self-indulgence".  But Rohr seems to be on to something that Jung hit upon but did not take seriously enough.  
I would say Rohr is presenting the "false self" (the persona) as doxa, and the journey to the self-known-by-God (the "true self") as a journey toward a reality that is not of our own making.  The potential for abuse, of course, is evident.  One may call "my wife and kids" the obligation of the "false self" and "sleeping with my mistress" the way to the "true self".  
But, with the guidelines of the Church and the voice of conscience, perhaps this pitfall can be avoided ... though Rohr does not stress this.]
Q. How do the concepts of True Self and False Self relate to the questions you explored in Falling Upward
A. In my book Falling Upward, I try to talk about the journey, the transitioning from the first half of life, the necessary suffering in the middle of life, and the liberation of the second half of life. In talking about True Self/False Self in Immortal Diamond, I'm trying to actually explain what it is we're finding in the second half of life--our True Self. If you don’t find or recover your True Self, you remain in the first half of life forever, as many people do. They think they are their occupation, their family, their culture, their religion; without the falling apart of what Thomas Merton called our “private salvation project,” without that falling there is no upward. In Immortal Diamond I'm calling the upward the True Self and I'm trying to explain what the True Self is.
[Again, this is from Jung, who wrote about the stages of life and about the middle of life as being a crisis period that offered great opportunity for attaining spiritual growth.  Though the phrase "attaining spiritual growth" in our society usually means, "I'm finally doing what I always wanted to do, but was too decent to do before now."  However, if we take Rohr's insights in the proper light, what he seems to be saying is we need a crisis, a cross, a passion, to topple our house of cards, to undo our Unreality.  Perhaps both Jung and Rohr could avoid the pitfall of mere self-indulgence if, indeed, the "true self" is that part of us that is most visible to God's penetrating glance and most needful of God, what I have elsewhere called the Vulnerable Thing.  That part of us is not our salvation, for it can be as selfish as any other part of our character: but it is the part of us that approaches Our Lord as a child, with simplicity, innocence and earnestness, all cynical worldliness stripped away.  If it takes a mid life crisis to get to that, then Rohr is on to something.]
Q. Why is finding True Self so important to the spiritual journey? 
A. In many ways this quest for the True Self is the foundational issue. Your True Self is the only part of you that really has access to the big questions, things like love, suffering, death, God. Your False Self just entertains itself. But once you make contact with your True Self, there's a natural correspondence between who you are and who God is. Let me put it this way. When you discover your True Self, it's very easy to recognize the presence of God. When you're living out of your False Self, you tend to be more attracted to externals--external beliefs, external rituals--but you are never really touched at any deep level because it's not really YOU that's making contact. It's your temperament, your personality, your culture, all of which are okay, but your True Self is that part of you that already knows God, already loves God at some unconscious level. When you can connect with your True Self, the whole spiritual life opens up.
[This is really good stuff.  He's talking about the difference between living at the level of doxa vs. living at the level of sophia: philodoxy vs. philosophy, divertissement vs. periagoge, Unreality vs. reality.  Again, it's very easy to say, "Now that I'm living with my gay lover I'm in touch with my true self and my whole spiritual life has opened up!"  But that's simply a self-serving parody of the reality Rohr is describing; that's indulging the false self, not turning the true self toward God.  But do we have the courage to tell ourselves that?  Or will we simply use the gifts of psychology to continue to play games and to continue to justify sin?]
Q. What is the connection between finding True Self and facing death? 
A. The phrase "you must die before you die" in one form or another is found in most of the world religions. Jesus would say, "Unless the grain of wheat die it remains just a single grain." This means that this concocted False Self, this manufactured identity that is who we all think we are, has to go. That's what the language of being “born again” really means. It’s not some kind of magical transaction that takes place between you and God, but the death of the passing self, the one you have created for yourself. That's what has to die. Until that False Self dies you don't really know who you are. Once you let go of your passing self, as St. Francis said, "The second death can do you no harm." In other words, once you have experienced the little losses and failings or falling upwards, you know at a deep level that you’ve been there before and none of it is going to kill you. You've already learned how to die. If you don't learn how to die early, ahead of time, you spend your life avoiding all failure, humiliation, loss, and you're not ready for the last death. Your True Self, your soul knows spiritual things, and knows God. So if you don't awaken it, you really don't know God. You can be religious, but you don’t encounter God at any depth. It's just spinning the necessary prayer wheels, whatever your tradition tells you is the appropriate prayer wheel. It isn't really transformative religion.
[Of course, being born again can be both an ontological change wrought by baptism and also a symbol for the death-to-false-self and rebirth-to-God (and therefore to true-self): it can be both.  As with everything in Scripture, it can be both literally and symbolically true at the same time.  And, if I've learned anything from my Devout Catholic friends, it's that "transformative religion" is the very last thing most of them want.  What most of us want is a more powerful false self, not the pain and sacrifice required to act from the true self.  And so, as insightful as all this is, if it's not coupled with the humility, the basic humility, of our need for a savior, the recognition that we will turn all good gifts to the bad without God's help - including the great good gift of psychological insight - then it's a tool that's ripe for abuse.]
Q. How can we make contact with our True Self? 
A. It is hard work to remain in contact with your True Self. That’s why daily prayer is important. Somehow we have to reestablish our foundational ground over and over because we lose it every day. I surely do. I get caught up in letters, emails, what people want of me, what I need to be, the little dance I have to do today for this person or that person. It may be necessary, but if you are living in that world, that revolving hall of mirrors, you so get enchanted with these reflections of what everybody thinks you are or wants you to be that you forget or you never discover who you really are before you did anything right or anything wrong, before you had your name, your reputation, your education, your family, your culture. That’s how we get caught up in what some call our “survival dance.” Finding True Self is about finding your sacred dance, who you are forever and who you always will be. That's the self that can go to Heaven, if you want to put it that way, because it's already in Heaven. It's already there. So you're returning home.
[I agree with this - with the caveat that heaven is not our heaven.  If we think we make heaven, we end up creating hell on earth.  If we find heaven, both the "Kingdom of God that is within you / among you" and the Kingdom of God that only fully comes outside of time and the world, we find it.  We don't make it.  It's objective, like truth itself; and getting there is a gift, a grace.  It's real, like God.  It's not a construct.  This is, in fact, implicit in everything Rohr says.  If the false self is false, it's because we've concocted it to suit our needs; it's made by us.  The true self is discovered by us.  It's true because it's there, it's objective.  It's a fact, as is God, who is the source of all facts and who is Himself the truest self.]
Q. Where did the title, Immortal Diamond, come from? 
A. The metaphor immortal diamond came from a poem by the Jesuit Englishman, Gerard Manley Hopkins. The last lines of this beautiful poem say, “I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and/ This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,/ Is immortal diamond.” When I first wanted to clarify this notion of True Self/False Self, I immediately said that's going to be the, the metaphor. I think it names what I'm talking about, something that's strong, true, clear, but hidden within us.
[What's good about all of this is very good indeed.  What's bad about it is what's left unsaid.]

So there you have it.  Hope this was not too hard to folloe.

And the Word was made Fuzzy



I've been Catholic long enough that I know what homily will be preached for any given reading.

And so when the Gospel is Jesus appearing to the men on the way to Emmaus, I cringe.  I know the homily.  The homily will be ...

They recognized Him in the breaking of the bread!  Isn't that great!!  Just like we do!!!

Except we don't.

It's hard to be frank on this subject without sounding bitter or becoming bitter, but if we are challenged to bear our cross daily, then we dare not ignore the cross or pretend as if it's not there.

And our cross in the Catholic Church is this.  The Catholic Church, at the parish level, is hardly recognizable as a Church.  We don't recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  We don't recognize Jesus.

As a rule, there are three types of homilies that you'll hear at 90% of American Catholic parishes across the country (and I have, remember, been to Mass all over the country, to hundreds and hundreds of different parishes over the years, and I am speaking from experience).  The three types of homilies (with rare exceptions) are ...

  1. The homilies that don't make any sense. 
  2. The homilies that make sense, but that portray Jesus as a vague nice guy who always loves us no matter what we do with a love that's indulgent like the love of suburban parents for their fornicating and depressed teenage children who are binge drinking and who get pulled over and arrested, but who get bailed out by daddy's good lawyer whenever they get in trouble: a love that is benign and ultimately neglectful.
  3. The homilies that are a combination of #1 and #2.
Oh, and one more ...

      4.  Joy!

Today's homily was #3 with a touch of #4.  Once we got past the introductory anecdote, which had no relation at all to the Gospel and which the priest tried to force by misreading the Gospel (the priest talked about getting lost while driving and deliberately continuing in the wrong direction out of stubbornness; he then asserted that the disciples on the way to Emmaus were just like that because they were going to Emmaus when they should have been going to Jerusalem, which is where they came from to begin with ... to which those who were paying attention responded, "huh"?) - once we got past the "huh?" factor, we got to, "They recognized Him in the breaking of the bread!  Just like we do!  Joy!"  

Which led to another ... "huh?"   

Jesus is never a particular person in the modern Church.  He desires nothing in particular.  He has no actual personality.  He's a blur.  He makes no demands upon us.  His "joy" doesn't even seem to be related to the cross.  The cross is mentioned, but the "joy" is not connected to it ... whatever that "joy" is.  It's certainly not related to the music they play at Mass, that's for sure ("music", I'm afraid, is too generous a term for it; and it's never a sound that brings "joy" or anything resembling it).  It's all Inconsequential.

Now, in the old days, when I used to complain about this sort of thing at Waiting for Godot to Leave, (my old blog, where I was foolish enough to allow comments), readers would say one or more of the following ...
  • It's not like that at my church!  I go to St. Somewhere, and it's great at St. Somewhere!
  • You are so judgmental.  You need to go to confession.
  • Why are you complaining?  I love the music at Mass.
But my point is this.

This is not something we should put up with.  I don't know the solution, but swallowing it is not the solution.

One obvious solution is this.  Read the Bible.  We are fed the Eucharist at Mass, but we are not really fed the Word.  But it is within our reach.  With the internet, you can read almost any translation that's out there, and you can even read Scripture in its original language.  And you can find the sort of homilies that we should be hearing but are not.  And if you read the Scripture daily, and study it, and pray over it, and read it in context over and over again in your life, you will at least be fed by the intellectual Word God has given us.  It takes effort, but so do all good things.

Putting up with what we've got, with or without complaint, does no good at all.

***

UPDATE - By coincidence, a Facebook friend, who is apparently a priest in Africa, has posted this ...
Do you have a Bible? How often do you read it? I have come to realize that people either read the Bible daily or almost never...

Scenes from Merchant of Venice

From the 2017 Nashville Shakespeare Celebration at Aquinas College.  Left to right: Joseph Pearce, Kevin O'Brien as Shylock, Kaiser Johnson as Bassanio, Maria Romine as Nerissa, Christine George as Portia, Benjamin Moats as Antionio in Scenes from Merchant of Venice.

Shakespeare and Me

3rd Annual Shakespeare Celebration

Saturday, April 22, 9:30 a.m. – 3:40 p.m.

Save the date for the 3rd Annual Shakespeare Celebration, a full day of talks and performances, featuring Gary Bouchard of Saint Anselm CollegeKevin O'Brienand Theater of the WordDr. Aaron Urbanczyk and Joseph Pearce of Aquinas College, and Santiago Sosa of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.
The drama departments of Saint Cecilia Academy and Father Ryan High School will also be staging scenes from Shakespeare's most well-known plays. There is a suggested donation of $15 per person for those attending the event.

Schedule

9:30 – Registration
10:00 – Aaron Urbanczyk: “Statecraft, Christendom, and Machiavelli: Shakespeare on Political Theater”
11:00 – Father Ryan High School: “The Riddle of the Caskets in The Merchant of Venice
11:20 – Santiago Sosa of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival: “Seeking Shakespeare: A Dramatic Presentation”
12:15 – Lunch
1:00 – Presentation of the Shakespeare High School Essay Award & Reading of Winning Essay
1:20 – Gary Bouchard: “Shakespeare & the Jesuit Martyr”
2:20 – Saint Cecilia’s Academy: “Love and Marriage in Romeo and Juliet
2:40 – Joseph Pearce, Kevin O’Brien & Theatre of the Word: “The Christianity of The Merchant of Venice
3:40 – Closing Comments
4:00 – Travelers’ Mass in St. Jude Chapel at Aquinas College
Dr. Gary Bouchard of Saint Anshelm College
Joseph Pearce
Kevin O'Brien & Theater of the Word, Inc.
Dr. Aaron Urbanczyk
Santiago Sosa of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival
Hope to see you there!

Why Seems It So Particular with Thee?



John Henry Newman on a problem he noticed roughly 200 years ago ...

It is very much the fashion at present to regard the Saviour of the world in an irreverent and unreal way—as a mere idea or vision ... [offering] vague statements about His love ... [and] while the thought of Christ is but a creation of our minds, it may gradually be changed or fade away.

... so this is not a new problem.

Against this vagueness and blur, in opposition to the Unreality of Jesus the Nice Guy, Newman suggests something that most Catholics would consider novel.  He says to know this Person Jesus, you could simply read the Gospels.

... when we contemplate Christ as manifested in the Gospels, the Christ who exists therein, external to our own imaginings, and who is as really a living being, and sojourned on earth as truly as any of us, then we shall at length believe in Him with a conviction, a confidence, and an entireness, which can no more be annihilated than the belief in our senses. It is impossible for a Christian mind to meditate on the Gospels, without feeling, beyond all manner of doubt, that He who is the subject of them is God; but it is very possible to speak in a vague way of His love towards us, and to use the name of Christ, yet not at all to realize that He is the Living Son of the Father, or to have any anchor for our faith within us, so as to be fortified against the risk of future defection. 

I know this is difficult 19th century prose, but what he's saying is simply that Christ had a particular character, and was not an amorphous blob, blurry and fuzzy: and His character was, rather disturbingly, Divine.

The theological implication of this fact is what I would call the particularity of the saints.

We are sanctified not as indistinguishable blurry "nice guys" but as very particular individuals with zest and with deliberate things we are and are not.  Grace perfects nature, including the nature of our form, our limitations, our personalities.

Young people today seem to think that individuality is all about what music you like.  Demographic marketing and the niche of your favorite band defines who you are, and so if you find someone who likes the same garage band as you, you've found (one would assume) a compatible friend.  But, on the contrary, the mystery of who we are, and of what we are called to (our vocation) is much more personal and particular and even more biting and painful than the music we listen to.

It is like the stinging taste of salt.  And this ringing and stringent flavor is something we are not to deny.

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.  (Mat. 5:13)

But when was the last time you went to a suburban Mass and had any sense that the particular - the particular anything - mattered?

Weigel Room

I am reading material in preparation for my Homeschool Connections class The Life and Legacy of St. John Paul II.  

This means I am re-reading George Weigel's biography, A Witness to Hope, a book I originally read 17 years ago when I became Catholic.

This time, rather, I'm listening to the audio book version ... that is, until Weigel's unctuous praise of the Theology of the Body, at which point I could take no more and I had to shut it off.

Weigel is apparently the one who got the weird TOB train moving.  There is something that is really cloying and a bit sick about the Pop-Catholic thrill over the Theology of the Body.  I wrote about it at length on Waiting for Godot to Leave.  The Wednesday Audiences (Pope John Paul's addresses that are loosely referred to as the Theology of the Body) themselves are fairly interesting, but they're about Marriage, not sex - and while sex is mentioned by JP2 in them, I certainly don't recall the apotheosis of so-called Natural Family Planning (NFP) that Weigel includes in his praise of the Wednesday Audiences.

Now, I know I'm treading on The Most Dangerous Ground There Is when I say this, for I know that of all the anger I stirred up on my old blog in my criticism of Torture, Lying, Pop-Catholic Theology of the Body, false prophets, bad bishops and other things - of all that anger, nothing came close to the furor over my criticism of so-called NFP.  But here goes.

NFP is just a tool: a neutral tool.  It is not a conduit of grace.  It is a tool that is abused more than properly used, from what I can tell by talking to young Catholics.  Periodic continence does not automatically make your marriage stronger, make you more holy, or make you a better Catholic in and of itself, especially if it is being used habitually as a way of avoiding babies (smell, messy babies) and for reasons that are as selfish as those of our fellow Catholics who, with less scruples but often the same intentions, simply cut the nonsense and take the Pill.  Periodic Continence is not "birth control", it is not a contraceptive, and it is, therefore, morally licit.  But the intentions behind its use may be self-giving or may be self-serving.  You may occasionally abstain from sex with your spouse as a penance or in prudence; or you may do so in order to afford a boat and a nice vacation - or because you're scared to death of the discomfort new life in the house may bring.  "NFP" may help you be mature or it may help you be infantile.  It may help you be responsible or it may enable you to be self-indulgent.  There is nothing magical about it.

But Weigel hails it as a kind of sacramental.  As do most of its boosters.

Maybe this is because he's contrasting it with contraception.  But we get into trouble when we measure ourselves not by the standards Christ sets for us, but by the standards of the world around us.  Pope Francis has waded into very turbulent waters because he's trying to accommodate what sinners actually do rather than emphasize what sinners are called to do.

But if we congratulate ourselves and one another for being among the probably less than 2% of Catholics who avoid taking the Pill, we are not only measuring ourselves by the wrong standard, we are feeding a spiritual pride that is deadly.  "I use NFP and how dare you criticize me!"  That summarizes the hundreds of complaints I got when I last wrote about this - except I've removed the profanity.

And it's this odor that offends me.  This praise of NFP stinks.  It smells funny.  It's not Catholic.  It's not Christian.  It's self-indulgent.  It's bourgeois.  It's having your cake and eating it too and bragging that you're on a diet in the process.