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.


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.

Pure Poetry

I found this poem about the internet.  It's by Hendrik Mans.    ...

The web is


all of humankind’s knowledge at


your fingertips.


Why I Believe

I became an atheist at age 9.   I became Catholic (of all things!) 30 years later.  This, after hating Catholics most of my life and agreeing with all of my artistic and theatrical friends that the Catholic Church was ridiculous at best, contemptuous at worst.

But, even now 17 years after my reception into the Church, I remain adamant about one thing.  If this is all a lie or a pleasant fiction, we should burn all the churches.  If this is all a lie, it is the worst lie in history.  If the Church is merely a human institution, then it will only get even more corrupt than it already is and it should be torn to pieces.  If people believe because it feels good, to hell with people and to hell with belief - and to hell with needing a lie to feel good.  You want the truth?  You can't handle the truth!  But if we're worthy of the name "men" or "women", we can handle the truth - God or no God.

After all, Jesus Christ told us, "The truth will make you free".  That much even atheists would agree on.  Or at least they should - if they were more than fad atheists playing party games with nihilism.

And I know, I know - it's Easter and that whole rising from the dead thing is a bit much, but that's not really what turns people off.  (By the way, if Jesus did not rise from the dead - crazy as that sounds - then the whole thing is false.  "If Christ be not raised, then is your faith in vain," as St. Paul was honest enough to say, "and we are the most miserable of men". - 1 Cor. 15:17  So don't be a "Christian" because Christ was a nice guy; He was God and the proof of that was His resurrection; if you don't believe that, well, that's understandable, but then stay home on Sundays and don't get a job as a fill-in pastor at a Presbyterian church ... which is a story I'll tell in my book.)

What turns people off, and what turned me off for all of my young life, was not the miracles or the resurrection or the weird Christian culture or the Bible.  Far from it.  The Gospels, in particular, always fascinated me, and I remain (I'm sorry to say) one of the few Catholics who regularly reads Scripture (apparently).

What turned me off then and what turns me off now was Christians and what they did with their faith.  As Groucho once said to Chico, "I want to join a club and beat you over the head with it."  That sums up a lot of what Christians do with "Christianity".

Bl. John Henry Newman described what's behind this attitude found in many Christians ...

They forget that all men are at best but learners in the school of Divine Truth, and that they themselves ought to be ever learning ... They find it a much more comfortable view, much more agreeable to the indolence of human nature, to give over seeking, and to believe they had nothing more to find.

This is the problem.  And it's endemic in the Catholic Church, at least.  Eric Voegelin describes it this way ...

Certainties, now, are in demand for the purpose of overcoming uncertainties with their accompaniment of anxiety ... [and yet] ... Uncertainty is the very essence of Christianity.  ...  "Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1)
The bond [of faith] is tenuous, indeed, and it may snap easily. The life of the soul in openness toward God, the waiting, the periods of aridity and dullness, guilt and despondency, contrition and repentance, forsakenness and hope against hope, the silent stirrings of love and grace, trembling on the verge of a certainty which if gained is loss—the very lightness of this fabric may prove too heavy a burden for men who lust for massively possessive experience.

I love that last line.  We are "men who lust for massively possessive experience"!  We all are.

JRR Tolkien describes this very lust and the disenchantment that accompanies it.

[The things that become disenchanted] are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.

In other words, God becomes a mere tool for prideful man, for anxious man, for lazy man; a possession, a "thing" like other "things".

This is why we need a savior.  Because even the greatest gift we've been given - faith in a merciful and just God - is something we want to put in our pockets or "lock in our hord" and use for our own security, to allay our anxiety, or (what is worse) to use as a kind of weapon, a club we join and beat people over the head with.

Both believers and non-believers have this trait, this hard-heartedness, this possessiveness, this tendency not to be humble in the presence of the truths of God, but to appropriate and manipulate them.  One of the most apparently devout young Catholics I knew used faith in God as a giant contraceptive against reality, keeping the Spirit out while maintaining the bubble of fiction that was her life, a bubble she made certain He never pierced.   She lived a life devoted to Spiritual Contraception (and physical contraception, for that matter).  The quasi-atheist quasi-Catholic friend I described here is not intent on approaching God (and hence the meaning of life) with humility and genuine curiosity, but instead is set on constructing clever arguments that Jesus would be too foolish to penetrate.   And yet what is life but this reaching out in faith ... this anxious trust that what we do in time matters eternally, that if we seek we find, that if we love we will somehow be loved back - and that even if we're not, it's the offering, the act, that matters?

One of my best friends is an agnostic, or at least won't discuss matters of faith.  But she gives her entire heart and soul and being into educating children - a job which she finds eternally significant, though she would never describe it in those terms.  She knows, as we all do, that love outlasts time and death.  In that sense, she knows the inner meaning of the Resurrection better than most "massively possessive" Christians do.

Another friend of mine is a non-Christian and is in desperate need of cheap health insurance.  He looked into a Christian Health Share program, which would have saved him a lot of money, but refused to join it because they demand a profession of faith and he refused to lie in order to join the group.  He refused to lie!  He, a non-Christian, refused to claim to be a Christian, even though it would have benefited him to say so.  And yet, one of my most discouraging battles on the internet over the years was with "devout" Catholics who kept insisting that lying could be a good thing - a holy and righteous thing! - despite settled Church teaching on the contrary.

We could all give examples like this, examples of people who reject "Christianity" and yet behave better than most Christians, who believe in the transcendent nature of love, sacrifice, morality.

This is why I believe.  Because it's true.  I believe in the dogmas, but the dogmas are signposts, signposts to encourage us to keep seeking, to keep praying, to keep living "in openness toward God"; they are not walls in which to barricade ourselves and keep God and others out.  We search because even through passion, death and darkness, even through the horror of Good Friday and the loneliness of Holy Saturday, even through moods of despair and absurdity, even through all of this, if we seek, we find - we find in the depths, we find in the tomb, we find in one another, the silent secret of eternal life.

Come Down from the Cross

A friend of mine, who gladly accepts the consolations of God, rejects pretty much everything else about Him.

Here are some points he made yesterday in a talk with me ...

  • God is horrific if anyone is damned to hell.  What about the chance of repentance after death?  God is a monster if the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is true.
  • Why could Jesus not perform miracles in His home town?  Because they were on to His tricks!  
  • I'm a scientist.  I don't care that other scientist have been unable to find natural causes for miraculous cures in our day, including the many cures at Lourdes.  So tumors and terminal illnesses disappear?  What about a man growing a limb back!  What about a severed arm coming back!  Why don't we ever see a miracle like that?

Which reminds me of this ...

So You are the Christ
You're the great Jesus Christ
Prove to me that You're no fool
Walk across my swimming pool

Meanwhile, over the years, I've seen this man move the goalposts.  He sent his kids to Catholic schools and began to complain that they were not receiving solid religious education; then he began to complain that they didn't want to go to Mass and stopped going when they moved out of the house; then he began to complain that his older son was smoking a lot of weed; and now one of the kids is simply fornicating regularly with his girlfriend, and I no longer hear complaints about that.  Except last night I did hear this.  "My sons tell me they no longer believe in God and that bothers me!"

I tried to explain that Jesus' "inability" to perform miracles in His home town is a Sign - a Sign of the effects of hearts of stone.  

Today on Good Friday, the mockery still rings in His ears.  "Come down off the cross and we'll believe!  You saved others!  Save yourself!"

Well, we think we can save ourselves, so why not demand that He save Himself?  Miracles and resurrections are not enough - jump higher, Christ, jump higher. 

Bland Theology and Bland Churches

(Father Dwight posts on Facebook ...)

Belloc said, "Every argument is a theological argument." The reason modern Catholics build ugly, utilitarian preaching halls is because their theology has become Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism.
In other words, their Catholicism has simply become a religion of good works--helping people and now and again giving one another stimulating sentimental thoughts about a God who is out there somewhere.
This type of religion does not require a beautiful temple which is the house of God. It does not require a beautiful Bethel--the meeting place of God and Man.
It requires a big empty meeting space in which the folks gather to hear a pep talk about being nicer people.
Or am I being harsh?

... No, Father Dwight, you are not being harsh.  Except Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a misnomer.  The Inconsequentialism that is practiced at most of our parishes is neither Moralistic (for we are told you can do whatever you want), Therapeutic (a good therapist is much more challenging than almost any homily you're likely to hear) or Deist (we believe God is a personal God, He's just Nice all the time and never to be feared).

Modern Catholics are not Moralistic Therapeutic Deists.  We are INCONSEQUENTIALISTS, and everything we believe and do is (we think) inconsequential.

We are in Eliot's hell, where "nothing connects with nothing".

A Greek Word for BS

I love my Homeschool Connections students, who are generally bright, creative and engaged with the material I'm teaching.

However, something disappointing occasionally happens when I ask for an essay from even the best of my students.  If I ask for a brief essay answer on a quiz, and ask for the student's reaction to what is most challenging or surprising or mysterious about the material we're reading, they frequently speak intelligently and from the heart.  But if I ask for an essay that's more formal, they gird up their loins, take a deep breath, and spew out BS.

Sometimes it's halfway decent BS.  Sometimes the essays are well structured and written without glaring errors in grammar or punctuation.  But the more formal the essay, the more I get the Party Line.  And the Party Line for Devout Catholic Homeschoolers goes something like this ...

What this course has taught me is the dangers of gay marriage and how we will all go astray unless we believe in God and how awful abortion is and what is this world coming to? and how people in the world are making huge mistakes and we will only be saved by being very careful and no wonder the world will end it's really awful.

Now, some of that is true.  But it's ... well, it's doxa.

What is doxa (δοχα)?  It's the Greek word for BS.

Gene Callahan writes ...

Plato made a very important distinction between philosophers and philodoxers. A philosopher is a lover of wisdom (σοφια). He tries to align his views with what is true. As such, the philosopher is always engaged in a search (ζετεσισ), since he realizes that he has views are never as true as they could be. We will see him continually updating and revising his views as he comes to see the truth more fully.
The philodoxer, on the hand, is a lover of appearances (δοχα). The philodoxer doesn't care about being good; the philodoxer cares about appearing good, in the opinion of others. The philodoxer doesn't care if his opinions are true; he cares about whether others will approve of his opinions.

And this is exactly what Harry G. Frankfurt says in his philosophical treatise "On Bullshit", describing, as carefully as possible, what "BS" is.  BS disregards truth and aims at impressing the hearer.  The BS-er is not concerned with what he says being true or not; he is only concerned with making the hearer think more highly of him.  A BS-ers claim is ...

... unconnected to a concern with the truth. Her statement is not germane to the enterprise of describing reality. ... She concocts it out of whole cloth; or, if she got it from someone else, she is repeating it quite mindlessly and without any regard for how things really are. 

I have a friend, a middle aged housewife, who overheard me talking about utopias.  "St. Thomas More's Utopia - that's on my reading list!  I can't wait to read it."

Now this is pure BS.  St. Thomas More's Utopia is not on anyone's reading list - unless they're taking a college course that requires them to read it.  And this person is the last person on earth who would actually desire to read that book.  But my friend wants to make a good impression on me and so she dumps some BS.

This friend of mine also nods in silent understanding if a baseball sportscaster makes a detailed analysis of a play on the radio.  If a sportscaster says, "His open stance compromises his ability to hit a breaking ball if the shift is on and if the pitcher has a good cut fastball to offer up."  She'll nod at this knowingly - as if she's in agreement - with something she doesn't even begin to comprehend.

Well, this is BS.  And so many people live their lives in BS mode.  There is no truth, there is only doxa, opinions about the surface of things.  Thus, many Catholics adopt the sub-culture because the sub-culture is the Faith, in their eyes.  What makes a good Catholic?  Devotions, novenas, daily Mass, Scott Hahn CDs, EWTN, prayer cards ... in short, the trappings, the mere indicia.  Now, there's nothing wrong with these things (especially daily Mass, which is a great blessing).  But they are all means to an end, not the end itself.

And yet philodoxers and BS-ers care about appearances and shibboleths more than the truth that they may (or may not) point to.  Thus I get the Party Line in formal essays.

But here's something that really is amazing, if you think about it.  We all BS, and we all trust in BS, as if BS could save us.  But, whether you're a Christian or an atheist, there's one thing you have to admit.

One man in history lived without any BS.  Even if you don't think He was the Word incarnate, you have to admit that.